Mortal Kombat (2021) Review

Mortal Kombat Movie Review

Not only have I never watched either of the previous two MORTAL KOMBAT movies, I don’t think I ever played the video game on which it’s based – although of course I’ve heard of it and its memetic catchphrases. In any event, I needn’t have worried because the makers of this reboot sci-fi slash-‘em-up didn’t think knowledge of the characters was all that important as they sought to bring this tale of an interdimensional deathmatch tournament back to the big (or, as it transpires for many, small) screen.

In 17th century japan, Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) leads a band of assassins to slaughter the ninja clan of Hanzo Hasahi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Hanzo puts up a brave defence but is slain by Bi-Han, his soul condemned to purgatory. Not all of Hanzo’s clan are dead though and Raiden, god of thunder, arrives to transport Hanzo’s baby daughter to safety.

Four hundred years later and things look grim for planet Earth. The realm of Outworld is on a hot streak, having defeated Earthrealm in nine of ten deathmatch tournaments known as MORTAL KOMBAT. The rules of the tournament decree that should Earth lose a tenth tournament, Outworld will be able to claim dominion over it. As Raiden seeks to assemble a new team of champions, including former MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), leader of Outworld, the soul-sucking Shang Tsung (Chin Han), fearful of a prophecy which proclaims the “blood of Hanzo Hasashi” will unite a new generation of Earthrealm’s champions to prevent Outworld’s victory, sends his warriors to make a pre-emptive strike on Earthrealm’s would-be champions.

Got all that? While it might be as confusing and convoluted as the preamble to the old TV show SOAP, it’s also just as frothy and dispensable, with the film covering it in an energetic Edo-period Japanese prologue and a couple of title cards before crashing us into the action with washed up MMA fighter Cole. And action aplenty there is.

While it might come as something of a disappointment that a movie based on a game based on a tournament which itself constantly refers to said tournament doesn’t actually feature a tournament, the movie instead settles for a series of pre-season unfriendlies to pit popular heroes and villains against each other in an escalating and seemingly endless series of dust-ups that deliver the signature finishing moves the game is renowned for.

It’s a relatively polished production and while its story is repetitive it is, at least, coherent unlike some of the more recent knock-offs. The script, liberally peppered with nods to the game, tends towards taking itself a little too seriously and it could have done with a little more wit and willingness to embrace the inherently camp hyper-machismo of the whole thing instead of relying on Josh Lawson’s boorish Kano to puncture the film’s occasional pomposity. The performances are exactly as good as they need to be when the IP is the real star and while the fight choreography is pretty impressive – and largely avoids descending into the Capoeira-esque interpretive dance moves that can often blight overly elaborate cinematic fight scenes – both cast and combat are often let down by less than flawless special effects work as director Simon McQuoid wisely marshals his available budget to deliver on certain essential events (a pity, then, that Goro apparently wasn’t one of them and ends up looking like he’s a contemporary of THE MUMMY RETURN’s Scorpion King).

You may be wondering how I’ve namechecked so many characters and could identify so many game references given my openly declared ignorance of both, but the truth is I was fortunate enough to see the film in the company of a real fan of the game who willingly (at my request) explained who various people were and what bits and pieces were lifted straight from the games themselves. He seemed happy and satisfied with the film and, I have to admit, I had fun with it. Dumb fun, for sure, but fun nonetheless.

Score 6