Mortal Kombat. Two words are connected to the societal zeitgeist for the last three decades. The hyper-violent video game franchise that helped lead to the creation of the ESRB and the modern age rating system, has seen itself transfer to other media. Its lore has been explored in comic books, it’s been toned down as an animated series, it’s everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure movie, and is the most recognized techno song ever made. And now the franchise returns to the silver screen. With an R rating and promises of fatalities is it worth seeing or is it just Annihilation all over again?
The story for Mortal Kombat is fairly simple. The empire of the Outer World seeks to invade and rule Earth Realm. In order for this to happen Outer World must win 10 Mortal Kombat tournaments. Currently, Outer World has won the last 9 and seeks to begin their conquest before the tournament. This is where most fans of Mortal Kombat are familiar with, but the latest movie takes a slight diversion.
This story centers around Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former MMA Champion who has a birthmark that signals he is one of Earth Realm’s champions. These marks are the catalyst for each champion to unlock their superhuman powers. Such as Liu Kang’s fireballs, Sub-Zero’s ice powers, and Kung Lao’s ability to control his buzzsaw hat. But these marks can be transferred if a bearer is killed by an opponent. Cole is saved from being killed by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) by Jax (Mehcad Brooks). From there he finds out about Mortal Kombat and the significance of the marks. After he, Sonya Blade, (Jessica McNamee), and Kano (Josh Lawson) trek to find Raiden’s Temple they meet Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and begin to train for the tournament. All the while Shang Tsung seeks to kill the champions so he has no opposition for the conquest of Earth Realm.
Now there are few things that separate this movie from the original. The first is Cole Young. This is an original character to the Mortal Kombat Universe that acts as a stand-in for the audience to uncover the story. Then there are the slight changes they made to Scorpion’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) character. But the biggest change is the removal of the tournament. In the first movie, the tournament was the focus of the whole movie, whereas now the tournament is almost avoided. Now the film is set up for a sequel so maybe the tournament will be used in the next movie.
Now it was promised back when the movie was announced that this movie would feature the fatalities and hyper-violence that the games are known for. And here they do deliver. When it comes time for the fatalities to be shown it seems like the filmmakers went to the game developers and said “so does this look like the game?” These are the highlights of many of the action sequences.
Along with the fatalities are the numerous fights. Here is where the movie does something interesting. The film displays both action fight sequences and martial art fight sequences. What separates the two comes down to how each sequence was shot and edited. Action fight sequences are typically more close-ups with lots of cuts. Think of any fight scene from Taken. Whereas Martial Arts fight sequences are wider so the audience sees the moves of the actors.
Mortal Kombat features a few scene stealers in this movie. The first is Josh Lawson as Kano. Lawson plays a new troupe I call the “Asshole Aussie”. Practically every line he delivers is hilarious. I don’t know if he ad-libbed or if he was written to be that funny, but he adds some levity to the movie.
But the true scene-stealers are the fights between Scorpion and Sub-Zero. With Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada using their martial arts backgrounds, the fights between the two of them are solid. They sell the age-old rivalry of the characters through their fights. This ultimately makes their fights more memorable than any other. They also utilized many of the moves from the games into their fights better than the rest of the cast.
Mortal Kombat follows the original movie in being a dumb, fun, action movie. This is where I think everyone was putting this movie. The biggest issue with the movie was the pacing. Rarely did the movie take a moment to stop or even slow down. The closer the movie got to the third act the faster it seemed to move.
Personally, I feel that this movie would work better as a series for HBO Max. It would allow the story to slow and show more realistic growth with the characters. Maybe that’s what Warner should do with the sequel. Overall this movie is a solid 3 out of 5. Its rapid pacing and accelerated character development can make it a little confusing at times. But the fights, action, and video game-like violence make it fun to see if that’s what you’re expecting.
EPILOGUE: THEATER OR STREAM
Having seen both Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs Kong, made me think of a new issue. Both movies were released by Warner Brothers and had the option to watch in theaters or via their streaming service HBO Max. Now other services are offering the same, but HBO Max subscribers don’t have to pay extra for these movies. But which is worth it?
While TV’s have advanced to almost match the specs of going to a theater, there is one thing that theaters still offer. Theaters’ audio systems are designed to maximize the movie-going experience. Unless someone has invested in a custom theater room they will not get the same experience.
Now some movies use a theater to their advantage. Godzilla vs Kong used it to help give gravity and weight to the monsters. But Mortal Kombat didn’t seem to do that, minus one hilarious moment with Kano. But I think this is what audiences will have to think about moving forward.
Is the movie going to be a big-budget special effects-driven movie or one where music and sound play a role? If yes then the theater is the way to go. If not then maybe order a pizza and stay in. But this is up to the moviegoer ultimately.