The latest video game to film adaptation comes courtesy of one of gaming’s most historic and well-loved franchises, the impressively gory beat-em-up series from Midway Games. With previous instalments, Mortal Kombat (1995) and sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), still proving to be cult fan favourites, can this reboot possibly break the curse of video game movie adaptations? While straying somewhat from the previous formula, Warner Bros’ latest entry still stays faithful to the legacy of the games, with plenty of brutal martial art beat downs and self-aware nods to the source material.
Directed by Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat centres on washed up MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) who becomes embroiled in an ancient and legendary battle between the many realms of the universe. With Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han) hunting down Earthworld’s champions one by one, Cole seeks out the remaining warriors to stand against their enemies and defend the fate of the Earth. With the main players assembled at the temple of Elder God Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the champions train and prepare for a high stakes battle for the universe.
Following a blisteringly violent opening sequence setting up the generations spanning battle between warriors Scorpion and Sub-Zero, the pacing of the first half grinds to a somewhat uneven halt as McQuoid navigates lore-heavy exposition and character introductions. The typical Mortal Kombat tournament format has been shelved in favour of a prequel of sorts, as multiple warriors with the same mysterious dragon marking are assembled in an Avengers-esque team-up, across an expansive mythical universe. Whilst introducing newcomers to the comprehensive world, there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek inside jokes and references for long-term fans of the franchise to enjoy along the way.
Some fans may be disappointed that this is only the road to the tournament, predominantly setting up the long-held war between good and evil Elder Gods amongst the Earthrealm and Outworld (with the Netherrealm briefly shown). However once the rag-tag team head to the temple of Lord Raiden and discover their own special abilities (aka arcana), the pacing and action sequences significantly kick up a notch throughout the second half of the film. With Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung unleashing a selection of his best champions to dispatch Earthrealm’s defenders, there’s plenty of brutal showdowns and absolutely gnarly fatalities to enjoy. Once you embrace the delightfully cheesy and over-the-top script, you will have a blast with this crazy ride.
While Lewis Tan’s washed up former MMA fighter Cole Young is perhaps the least interesting of the line-up, merely acting as a representation of the unfamiliar audience, it’s Josh Lawson’s Kano who undoubtedly steals the show. The unscrupulous Aussie bounty hunter is so charismatic, bringing a lot of the humour to the film with his witty delivery and fun dynamic with the rest of the Earthrealm champions, particularly Jessica McNamee’s Sonya Blade. Power Rangers star Ludi Lin is also another highlight as the endearing Liu Kang, and it’s clear to see how much work he’s put into preparing for the role. Furthermore, Joe Taslim is absolutely ferocious as the formidable villain Sub-Zero, while Hiroyuki Sanada also impresses as Scorpion, and the two do a fantastic job in bringing to life the long-held rivalry throughout their many fight scenes. However with such a large cast, there are undeniably underused characters, with Sisi Stringer’s fan-favourite Mileena as one of the main casualties.
The talented cast truly excel with the fight choreography in the many showdowns, while McQuoid very much leans into the hyperviolence of the game franchise. There is a graphic amount of blood and gore featured throughout the fight scenes, along with ingenious ways of dispatching enemies, including a particular moment involving a lot of blood and a spinning hat. Bloody signature finishing moves are also included, along with iconic sayings from the franchise such as “fatality”, “get over here” and “finish him!” The collaborative efforts on the visual effects from Rising Sun Pictures, Mr X, Method Studios and SlateVFX are also outstanding, particularly when it comes to Sub-Zero’s signature ice dagger powers. Furthermore, I challenge you to not bounce along to Benjamin Wallfisch’s Techno Syndrome take on the iconic theme as it blasts out in the closing moments of the film. What a banger!
Featuring plenty of impressive martial art fight sequences and signature gnarly moves, there’s plenty for fans of the franchise to enjoy. While it’s not quite a flawless victory, as some may not appreciate the nature of the origins-esque tale, it’s still an entertaining popcorn flick which solidly sets up a potential franchise. That tease at the end will definitely leave fans wanting more!
Mortal Kombat will be released on 6th May.