PG Score: 7.5/10
Mortal Kombat opened in theaters on 4/23/21, and is available for streaming on HBO Max
Mortal Kombat lives up to the hype and is sure to satisfy both loyal fans of the franchise as well as newcomers seeking their next action fix. In his directorial debut, Simon McQuoid has crafted the best live-action depiction of the beloved source material yet and arguably the most faithful video game adaptation to date.
The plot is about as shallow as one might expect in a film that places masterfully choreographed carnage above all else. It follows MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) as he joins forces with Earth’s greatest warriors to rebel against the foes of Outworld in a battle for the universe.
The original 1995 version from Paul W.S. Anderson was heavily restrained by a PG-13 rating. While this was far from its only issue, it certainly did not make it feel like any less of an inferior appendage of the Mortal Kombat core. Fortunately, McQuoid honors the games, especially when it comes to the brutal brawls. Not only is his movie rated R, but the blood-drenched bouts truly test just how far those boundaries extend. The series’ trademark fatalities are shown in all their gory glory, and some of these finishing moves will have viewers (particularly hardcore fans) grinning ear to ear. The combat crescendos are among the top highlights of the film.
Those who are worried about any possibility of the contrary can breathe a sigh of relief because most of the movie is dedicated to action sequences. These violent spectacles are beautifully orchestrated and testaments to the rigorous training regiments the cast completed to be able to perform the necessary stunts and martial arts movements. The graphic punishment unleashed by the merciless agents of death they portray accentuates the stunning choreography. Mortal Kombat thrives off the uncompromising execution of its remarkable rumbles.
Surprisingly humorous one-liners and entertaining banter occupies much of the time between (and during) lethal showdowns. The catchphrases that are prominent in the video games are very well-placed, and since they are not shamelessly repeated, their impact lands squarely each time. The dialogue is crude, but many of the lines are creative enough to arouse a hearty chuckle or two. In fact, some exchanges even cross into the territory of laugh-out-loud funny. Most of the humor’s success should be credited to Josh Lawson’s Kano. The character is a nuisance by design, but the actor’s timing and delivery are excellent throughout. Damon Herriman‘s Kabal is good for a few laughs as well.
Cole is the only new fighter as familiar faces occupy most of the 110-minute runtime. Favorites such as Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kung Lao (Max Huang), Jaxx (Mehcad Brooks), Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Mileena (Sisi Stringer), and Goro (Angus Sampson) account for much of the formidable roster. While some performances are more forgettable than others, the cast members step into the shoes of their respective characters rather effectively. The script does not demand top-notch acting to begin with, and any faults are countered by inspirational work ethics from performers who developed their bodies and physical techniques accordingly.
Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion is one of the standouts in a textbook case of maximizing limited screen time. He is in the spotlight for the most important scenes in Mortal Kombat and both his dramatic skill and athleticism are on full display. Despite the smaller part, Sanada embraces the iconic Scorpion wholeheartedly and is a certified crowd-pleaser.
Bi-Han/Sub-Zero is played by The Raid: Redemption star Joe Taslim, who absolutely steals the show. He is appropriately intimidating as the main villain, and his commanding performance makes it hard to imagine anyone else filling the role. Taslim is without a doubt the best part of the cast, which is even more exciting considering his potential future in upcoming projects.
Not Quite a Flawless Victory
There are negatives that detract from the otherwise enjoyable experience. First, the lack of an actual tournament is disappointing. The action is entertaining, but it is diminished by the absence of a contest setting. Second, Cole is a weak protagonist, and this is not a knock on Lewis Tan, but strictly the character itself. He pales in comparison to the legendary combatants alongside and opposite of him and appears out of place much of the time. Last, a few of the finishers fall flat. After the buildup of a rousing one-on-one, a muted final blow is noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
Director Simon McQuoid gifts audiences with a rare example of a quality video game adaptation. Mortal Kombat stays true to its roots while adding memorable matchups that elevate the franchise.