Tuesday 11 May 2021

Film Review: Mortal Kombat

Test your might by sitting through the latest film adaptation of a video game, with Simon McQuoid's reboot of 90s fighter staple, Mortal Kombat.

After an intriguing prologue set in 17th century Japan, the film leaps forward to present day and introduces us to struggling MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan). To support his wife and daughter, Cole is getting his ass kicked in the octagon for pittance on the regular – that is until he crosses paths with former serviceman Jax (Mehcad Brooks). Cole learns that the mysterious 'birthmark' of a dragon on his pec is more than just a cool conversation starter at parties – it's a tattoo signalling his destiny to compete in a legendary, cross-dimensional tournament called Mortal Kombat.

However, hot on Jax's heels is a shadowy figure from another realm – Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). A fearsome warrior with the power to wield ice and frost, Sub-Zero has been tasked by the nefarious Shang Tsung (Chin Han) with hunting down and destroying all of the Earth realm's tournament champions before the contest can begin. In order to face Sub-Zero, Cole, with the help of Jax, fellow soldier Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and loudmouth Kano (Josh Lawson), must journey to a remote temple, in search of a tutor by the name of Lord Raiden. 

Mortal Kombat has been adapted for the screen before, with Paul WS Anderson's cheesy but cherished 1995 original leading to a derided sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. The 2021 reboot does away with the 90s 'charm' that characterised Anderson's film and goes down a more contemporary route, by making the action, production design and overall vibe more grisly, gory and grounded. 

For fans of the games, this might be a good thing – from what I've seen, the games are very grisly and very gory. I'm not a huge fan myself, largely because I'm terrible at button-mashing fighting games, but I known enough about the world and its characters to get by – which was good, because McQuoid's film doesn't waste time providing context for much of its premise. 

There's a tournament that spans dimensions, a roster of masked ninjas and burly beasts, and an eternal tussle between two factions for control of the 'realms'. That's all you need to know, before Mortal Kombat kicks into gear and gets down to business.

Lead actor Tan, playing a new MK character who serves as an audience insert, is given the thankless task of being a fairly blank slate for richer, more established characters to interact with. Australian actors McNamee and Lawson come to the fore, particularly the latter; while most of the cast is po-faced and taking this shit seriously, Lawson is operating on another level as this aggressively beefy ocker loudmouth. His portrayal of Kano is so big and colourful, that it overshadows and outshines everyone around him. Hiroyuki Sanada is also a standout as fan-favourite Scorpion.

After the first hour establishes the plot, McQuoid packs the second half with pretty much wall-to-wall action. Aside from the prologue, which is more measured, the action in Mortal Kombat is very splashy – frenetic edits, rapid choreography. The film certainly earns its R18+ rating, with each encounter punctuated with a gruesome 'finisher' that sees someone's head carved in two or guts ripped out. 

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Mortal Kombat is a film laced with little details and callbacks for fans to hoover up and gorge on. For everyone else, there's not a lot to latch onto – if you're not well-versed in the Mortal Kombat universe and its characters, this might not be for you. 

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