The stakes always seem to be the same from one Mortal Kombat movie to the next. Once a generation, a tournament known as Mortal Kombat takes place, and winning it tips the scales of who rules Earth: the humans led by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) or the denizens of the Outworld led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han).
Screenwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callahan’s take on the franchise opens a few centuries in the past. Like Mortal Kombat Legacy: Scorpion’s Revenge, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) murders Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), his clan, and his family. The only survivor is an infant who Lord Raiden rescues. Like the animated feature, it’s pretty gruesome.
Moving to the present, the story follows Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an amateur underground MMA fighter who possesses a lot of potential, a god-awful losing streak, and a particular dragon birthmark. He struggles day-to-day to provide for his family and defeat his severe bout of low self-esteem.
One night after a losing effort, Cole, his wife, and daughter are attacked by Sub-Zero, only to be saved by Jax (Mehcad Brooks). In a losing battle, Sub-Zero freezes off Jax’s arms and leaves him in a frozen state of shock. We soon learn that the Mortal Kombat Tournament is about to occur, and Shang Tsung wants to guarantee victory and finally rule over humanity. He plans to murder all of Lord Raiden’s champions.
“Once a generation, a tournament known as Mortal Kombat takes place, and winning it tips the scales of who rules Earth…”
Representing Lord Raiden is Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) — who is ineligible to compete, Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Cole, who has yet to discover his power or arcana. Then we have the baddies: Sub-Zero, Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Nitara (Mel Janson), Reiko (Nathan Jones), Kabal (Daniel Nelson), and Goro.
So let’s cut to the chase. In terms of representing the video game’s combat, director Simon McQuoid ensures that his adaptation by far has the best action. There is a lot of practical fighting, some cool wirework, and CGI takes a back seat to the action. There’s a good amount of blood and gore (while staying within the parameters of an R-rating). There is also a wonderful and diverse array of fighting techniques that looks less like Hollywood choreography and more like good old-fashioned a*s-kicking.
So let’s talk story. It and the character development are about as deep as the actual arcade game. We like the good guys and gals because they’re attractive and hate the bad guys because they’re either hideous, in masks, or sport low-brooding voices. Again, we’re not here for the plot. Cole is meant to be the heart of the story, but he comes across as weak and whiny.
I don’t want to harp on the story too much, but what this Mortal Kombat does right is creating a suitable setting for each fight and build to the big one at the end. The final battle between Sub-Zero and Scorpion in an icy cage is impressive and is rightfully the main event of this card. Plus, I liked how each of the other characters was represented. They chose to go the Marvel route and design the costumes more grounded and contemporary than matching the video game exactly. While there are many characters, and we’re not given much time to sympathize with them fully, I had fun, and my low expectations were exceeded slightly. There is a setup for a sequel, but a lot of good characters were killed off.
Mortal Kombat is a pretty good representation of the video game. It’s all action and not much else, and normally, I do want more from my movies. But here, that is precisely the point, and I’m okay with that!
"…a wonderful and diverse array of fighting techniques that looks less like Hollywood choreography and more like good old-fashioned ass-kicking."