The new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat features edge of your seat action with a silly fantasy movie plot. Those elements make up the essence of Mortal Kombat, however, so it works perfectly.
Mortal Kombat follows a washed-up MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), on the run and defending his family from the villainous Sub Zero (Joe Taslim), a supernatural Cryomancer ninja assassin. Sub Zero has been sent to Earth, aka Earthrealm, from Outworld by the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) to destroy Earth’s mightiest warriors before the fateful Mortal Kombat tournament is due to begin. Cole teams up with Earth’s strongest fighters, which include Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and the treacherous Kano (Josh Lawson). They’ll train to unlock their hidden superpowers and fight for the fate of the world.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the almost two decades worth of Mortal Kombat lore, and director Simon McQuoid wastes no time in getting the action and plot devices going. The film skims through most of the exposition, trusting audiences will know who these characters are. For those that don’t, we get Lewis Tan’s Cole Young, a character never introduced in any of the video games the film is based on. His character serves as an entry point for uneducated audiences and is a welcome addition, if not a somewhat ordinary one. Cole’s co-characters, however, are rich with intrigue.
Kano and Sub Zero are the standouts, with Josh Lawson and Joe Taslim commanding attention whenever they’re on the screen. Lawson is hilarious as the Aussie larrikin criminal, whose sharp-shooting mouth makes for many laugh-out-loud moments. Taslim as Sub Zero, on the other hand, uses a quiet demeanour to portray a menacing presence, like a character straight out of a horror film. The rest of the Earthrealm fighters all possess particular quirks that make them enjoyable to follow, though it’s hard to connect with them as they don’t receive much of a backstory. It’s only Sub Zero and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), the franchise’s two most popular characters, that have extra attention paid to their history in the film’s spectacular opening scene.
Mortal Kombat sets the tone from the onset in a beautifully shot, violent action sequence set in feudal Japan. The filmmakers have paid special attention to the action set pieces, featuring riveting and often outlandish fight scenes. The expert choreography and excellent production and sound design place the audience right in the middle of the action, keeping butts at the edge of seats and hearts racing in each battle. Furthermore, the addition of many of the game’s signature fatalities makes the viewing experience that much more brutal and intense.
Mortal Kombat is at its strongest when its unique heroes and villains are doing what they do best – fighting to the death. Most of the in-between story beats tend to drag, making for an unbalanced tone. There’ll be heart-pumping action one minute and a drawn-out story sequence the next, which can pull the audience out of the film. Thankfully, there’s enough excitement in this film to make up for its flaws and it should be seen for what it is – a thrilling action spectacle.
The second film in the Mortal Kombat franchise to get an R rating, with the other being Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge (2020).