In theory, the video game movie should be a slam dunk. You’ve got established characters, (mostly) engaging stories, and a somewhat established world to work within. The pieces should, conceptually, fall right into place. History tells us the opposite, unfortunately.
Whether it’s playing it too safe, studio interference or just some cases of trying too hard to appeal to mass audiences that haven’t played the game, these types of movies have flown about as well as the Hindenburg. Mortal Kombat, however, has been something of an outlier in that case.
The 1995 adaptation has seen something of a cult following appear, and has been redeemed in a way in the eyes of the public. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, is arguably one of the worst movies ever filmed. The 2021 fare, despite its hexed genre, is just about as good as it needs to be.
Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former MMA cage fighting champ, is now washed up and getting paid scraps to get beat up by youngsters every other night. That is, until he is approached by former special forces operative Jax (Mechad Brooks) about Young’s so-called “birthmark”.
Turns out, Young’s been selected to an ancient tournament, Mortal Kombat, to fight beings from other realms to duke it out for some sort of interdimensional supremacy. Young, along with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Raiden, Lord of Thunder (Tadanobu Asano), fight the fighters of the Outworld.
These forces, led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and flanked by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), are one tournament win away from controlling earthrealm and enslaving the human race. Despite the overwhelming odds, these scrappy earth champions aren’t going down without a fight.
This film knows exactly what it is. With these types of movies, there can be a tendency to wink at the audience just a bit too much, but here I think the characters take themselves just seriously enough (outside of a gut-busting performance by Josh Lawson’s Kano) that this doesn’t just turn into “the roast of video game movies.”
In terms of quality of performance, that really doesn’t matter here. Mortal Kombat isn’t going to win any Oscars, and that’s just fine. With a movie about a fighting game, you’re really here for the action set pieces, and here specifically, the gore. The fight scenes are excellent, and if you like the red stuff, you will not be disappointed. Shoot, even the CGI Goro looks halfway decent!
I can’t really complain about all the stuff one would come here for, so I’m not going to. Especially not when you get an orchestral version of Techno Syndrome by the Immortals, which is equal parts cheesy and all-around excellent.
If you know Mortal Kombat, the video game series, then this will just about hit every beat that you could ask for. If not, then I could see how the lack of rose-tinted glasses may ruin your viewing.
This is really a movie where you turn your brain off and watch an Australian man shoot lasers out of his eye. It’s self-aware enough to get the chuckles and the adrenaline pumping, and really wants you to get back to playing those games again, I know I want to! Don’t think about anything too hard, and I can guarantee you’ll have a good time.