First there was the Super Mario Bros. Movie. It sucked. Then there was the first Mortal Kombat. It was okay. Then there was the second Mortal Kombat. It sucked. Then there were the Tomb Raider movies. They sucked. Then there was Uwe Boll…we don’t talk about Use Boll. Years of mediocre to downright awful video game movies led to Sonic — a pretty massive success in the video game movie world — being a competently made movie as well as delivering on the promise of its video game routes. All of these finally led to THIS VERSION of Mortal Kombat. Is it the best video game movie ever made? Yes. It is a flawless movie? No. But is it fun? Oh hell yeah.
Mortal Kombat is a bloody, yet faithful adaptation of the game that took the 90s arcades by storm. There was a point in time where real legislation was considered because Mortal Kombat was “corrupting the youth.” You hear that Jack Thompson, you lost!!! Anyway, Mortal Kombat is by far the best video game adaptation to date, combining lore of this universe (the best it can anyway) with the gruesome bloody violence the franchise is known for. This movie will surely please fans (for the most part) and casual viewers (kind of) alike. I’m guessing you’re probably wondering why I keep contradicting myself. Well, allow me to explain. First the good.
The opening seven minutes are brutal as we witness Scorpion’s origin with his family being brutally murdered at the hands of Sub-Zero. Ripped straight from the games, this scene is pretty gruesome and does not shy away from any sort of violence or bloodshed. A lot of the characters’ personalities and traits bounce off each other really well and feel like you really are watching these characters come to life. And that’s not even talking about the actors that play them.
The main leads are an absolute delight to watch. Ludi Lin is an amazing Liu Kang. Everyone here does bring their A-game here, which is odd considering this is still a video game movie. But the biggest standout here is Josh Lawson as Kano. Yeah there’s a scene we all see coming, but come on!! He’s having so much fun. There’s not a lot of jokes in this movie, but anything and everything funny comes from him. He is written kind of like a one-dimensional character, but Lawson’s acting just elevates it to the point where you cannot take your eyes off the screen when he’s there. In fact, a lot of the characters don’t have as strong of writing as I would have liked to have seen, but the actor’s performances, piled on top by Simon McQuoid’s strong direction, also helps this movie greatly. Jessica McNamee is an awesome Sonya Blade and her interactions with Mehcad Brooks’ Jax is actually fucking brilliant. There’s so much that can be felt between the two — so much history. All of this conveyed solely in the two actor’s performances. Though the two performances that end up making the film are Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero and Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion. Joe is clearly having so much fun being an evil son of a bitch while Hiro’s more subtle approach towards Scorpion is as perfect of an opposite as you can get for as big of a rivalry as this.
The action!! The original Mortal Kombat was PG-13 so they never really go to go all out in terms of the violence. This version is rated R for RIPPING THIS DUDE’S FUCKING FACE IN HALF!!! Ah-hem. Sorry about that. But yeah, this movie lives up to its name. People get their arms ripped off, stabbed through the face, get their face sawed in half, heads crushed, stabbed through the eye, burned alive…it’s not as HARD as the current games go, but it definitely looks and feels like Mortal Kombat — just as it should be.
And yes, with a franchise like this, there are plenty of easter eggs for hardcore fans to geek out on. Kitana’s fan blades, Nightwolf, a Shao Kahn statue, and a certain character that was left out but thankfully was not forgotten. You guys know who I’m talking about. No, he’s not in the movie but does make an appearance. There’s plenty of awesome moments to spot in the background that helps build up this world and makes it feel lived in. It’s not all up in your face about it…well, for the most part, but we’ll get to that later.
I loved the heck out of this movie. I want to SO BADLY see a sequel made for it…BUT…this movie is not perfect. It has quite a lot of problems that keep it from being just a masterpiece. You see, Mortal Kombat is well known for having an extensive character roster. Literally dozens of characters can be found within each game alone and that unfortunately translates to the movie too. There are A LOT of characters here, some pretty big name ones too. And this movie has a runtime of one hour and fifty minutes — one hour and forty minutes if you exclude credits. If they had just bumped it up to a two hour movie on the dot, I think more time helping flesh out some of the side characters could have benefitted the film greatly.
And this flows right into the film’s biggest sin: it’s main character. Lewis Tan does an amazing job as Cole and really does stand on his own. But that being said, it is still kind of odd that he is the least compelling out of all the main characters. No joke, Jax, Sonya, Liu, and even Kano feel more intriguing and fleshed out. Cole’s story is not only predictable, but follows the beats that we have come to expect from the hero’s journey. And it’s not even that every aspect of Cole’s character is bad. It’s not. It’s just a shame that the main character didn’t get as interesting of a plot or interpretation as the other leads got. But thankfully, he is likable enough to where you can root for him as well as wanting to see more. And I do. I hope that the sequel treats Cole better and actually takes risks and chances with him, the way it did for the other characters.
I mentioned before that this movie is filled with action, and it is. However, sometimes that action is shaky as shit and choppy as hell. This is made by a first time director, so I can’t expect every single aspect to be perfect on the first go. And despite the incredible job he has done here, some of the ways that these fights were shot were just bad. I felt sick during few moments because I literally could not tell what was happening on screen.
Finally, the biggest issue with the movie is its third act. I don’t know if this movie suffered some reshoots, but its transition from the end of its second act to its third is like Whiplash. Things happen so fast and is put together so oddly that you really don’t know what’s going on or what it’s trying to do. It’s so weird, because the movie’s pacing up until the end of the second act was pretty good. Great even. It just feels like something was taken out at the last minute and then the movie quickly rushed to try to bridge the empty gaps together. It’s noticeable and makes the film lack in the end.
There’s other miscellaneous things that don’t really bog the film down per say, but there are groaner moments. Remember when I said they included easter eggs? Yeah, they included some of the catchphrases from the games too. Some of them work like “Get over here!!” and “Finish them!!” But the others just make you go “ugh, really?” Like I said before, it doesn’t make the film worse as if they didn’t include them people would have been pissed regardless — sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation.
The visual effects can also be a hit or miss sometimes. You can have scenes where the visuals effect looks so real it’s astounding. Scenes with Sub-Zero — my God. They have made ice look so real it’s insane. And there’s another character who’s CG, you’ve seen them in the trailer, and they look really good. But there are also times where the VFX look like an amateur VFX artists’ demo reel. It’s not necessarily bad, but you look at them and you think “that’s cgi.” But yeah, hit or miss.
So overall, with everything that’s been said, how does this new Mortal Kombat fend?
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars
This is definitely a step in the right direction, and with that sequel bait ending that got me smiling, I would love to see more of this world and this franchise. But most importantly, I want this director to helm it. From what I’ve seen and whom I’ve spoken with, Simon McQuoid is a director to be reckoned with. Everyone on this movie loved working with him, so if there are to be more movies (AND I’M REALLY HOPING THERE WILL BE) I hope they keep Simon on board. It’s clear this film was made by people who actually loved the games; who cared about these characters and this franchise. They tried their best and it did (for the most part) pay off really well.