You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to recognize that circular dragon logo. Mothers of millennials all over the world clutched their pearls when they saw their children playing a game where you cut off limbs, ripped out spines and burned people alive. The trademark characters and their fatalities have transcended pop culture. Mortal Kombat isn’t just a fighting game franchise. It is THE fighting game franchise (sorry, not sorry Street Fighter). And after some poorly aged attempts in the 90’s to bring the game to the big screen, it’s passed time for a more worthy adaptation.
For centuries, the Earth, protected by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) has warred with the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han) of the Outworld realm in a brutal fighting tournament. After winning nine straight tournaments, the Outworld needs just one more victory to invade the planet and enslave mankind. A group of chosen fighters; Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kano (Josh Lawson), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Jax (Mehcad Brooks) are the only ones standing in the way of Shang Tsung’s champions led by Sub Zero (Joe Taslim) and Mileena (Sisi Stringer). Earth’s greatest hope might lie in a washed up MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who belongs to an ancient bloodline prophesied to defeat the Outworld.
Video game movies are notorious for being lackluster. The medium doesn’t exactly translate well because most games, especially ones made in the early 90’s… are about gameplay rather than plot. Anyone expecting to see a groundbreaking storyline isn’t here for the right reasons. This is about fight scenes, violence, and nostalgia. It’s much easier to ignore plot holes and suspend notions of what makes sense when you’re being bombarded with reminders of your childhood. Who cares that the iconic Scorpion character (Hiroyuki Sanada) who only speaks Japanese suddenly utters the famous line “Get over here!” in full blown English. Any fan of the game would be more annoyed if he didn’t say it. As for the trademark violence, while it isn’t nearly as gruesome as the game, the limited fatalities like one delivered by Max Huang’s Kung Lao, are thoroughly enjoyable.
The story never truly feels holistically interesting, thanks in large part to a dud new character whose family arc is generic and dull (Is it bad that I was rooting for his family to die??). The acting is also more miss than hit. Luckily, Josh Lawson’s hilarious portrayal of Kano breathes life whenever he’s on screen. At the end of the day, the movie delivers enough intense fight scenes and comical one-liners to overcome being nothing of substance. You didn’t play the video games for the plot, so why overanalyze it here? Let’s just hope a sequel is better than 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
FINAL GRADE: B, Worthy of multiple watches