An evil wizard wants to conquer earth and must do so through punching and kicking.
Directed by Simon McQuoid
Starring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, and Hiroyuki Sanada
Review by Jon Kissel
The immediate inclusion of the tournament and its asinine ten-win requirement in this adaptation is the film’s fatal flaw. Much like Godzilla vs Kong, things must be kept as simple as possible in service of the base spectacle that everyone’s here to see. There must be a better way to work the characters into fisticuffs with each other than this flimsy structure that hasn’t changed since 1992. Mortal Kombat instinctually knows this because there is no tournament in the film, nor is there a hint that it will happen in the next film or the one after that. The soul-sucking Shang Tsung (Chin Han) sends out his best fighters as assassins against earth’s best fighters, promising to send armies next time. Why even bring up the tournament dictated by the gods if it doesn’t matter? There’s something there in the shrugging off of norms, something obliquely relevant in modern history, but we’re not talking about releasing tax returns or the appropriate amount of time to appoint a Supreme Court judge before an election. This is a world that opens with rules, and those rules are shown not to matter, so excise the rules and just contrive ways for the characters to murder each other.
It’s on the action front that the film is most confident. Sanada has a long career in fight choreography, and his early battle with Sub Zero hints at the best possible version of a Mortal Kombat movie. Subsequent fights each have their moments of gorier and gorier glory, with Jax getting his arms frozen off and an empowered Cole slicing up Goro. Fights have a solid sense of geography as they’re happening, though they decay into characters having chats when there are people trying to kill them. The final showdown between a resurrected Hanzo and Sub Zero is the best, but praise must be showered on Jax versus General Reiko and the latter’s very weird choice to huff out of his fully-open mouth. Jax’s robot arm deflecting Reiko’s giant hammer has a weight to it that a lot of modern CGI action movies lack, and Brooks brings a lot of swagger to his dispatching of the mouth-breathing general. That scene and several others are exactly what I wanted out of Mortal Kombat.
What I didn’t realize I wanted is Josh Lawson as Kano, a character I never play in the game for indeterminate reasons. Maybe he’s a little too coarse in a game where other characters can punch their rivals in the groin so hard, their eyes pop out. Either way, Lawson creates an inner life for his Australian roughneck mercenary, something no one else onscreen is bothering with. Kano like to doodle, he takes a knife to the quadriceps with good humor, and a tiny bit of pathos creeps in when he begs Sonya to kill him. It’s a shame that he dies by the end of the film, as he could easily have slotted into a Loki-esque trickster role over the course of the inevitable sequels. Praise must also be given to the casting of Liu Kang, played by Ludi Lin and his zero body fat. Lin has an interesting look and will hopefully grow into being a more competent actor.
Mortal Kombat provides plenty of fatalities and a number of laughs more than I was expecting, which was none. I’ll even admit to getting a rush of excitement at the film’s only use of the iconic Mortal Kombat techno theme, truly one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. Its needy fishing for a franchise is poorly done, but that’s just where the movie business is these days. The next movie could conceivably be identical to this one, as each side beefs up their roster, levels each newbie up through screenwriting 101 tropes, and skirmishes in advance of bigger battles. This being great would have been a miracle, but it settles with being the equivalent to the 90’s version. Perfectly fine, but no flawless victory. C