By: John M Jerva
THE REVIEW: There’s no denying that a new Mortal Kombat film has been in development for years now and even though we have been teased with a rather successful string of web series based on the popular gaming franchise, fans have been looking forward to another theatrical effort for quite some time. Finally, the reboot has arrived and with it, fans will be treated to a bevy of fisticuffs fueled action sequences and a rather large helping of blood soaked fan service. This new version of Mortal Kombat definitely kicks the 90’s films right in the teeth and proceeds to rip out their spines (see what I did there?). While the first two films were a cheesy and tongue in cheek representation of the game, this 2021 model takes itself very seriously and pulls no punches or body parts.
To state first off, I have never really been a fan of the video game franchise and aside from playing them here and there growing up, I was more into the films, TV shows and animated films. I know some of the mythilogical lore and I do know most of the characters but I’d be lying if I said that I lived and breathed this game. I’ve never been much of a gamer but I do enjoy the entertainment offsprings that it generates.
With that I can without a doubt tell you that I was very excited when this movie was announced and when I saw footage, I was even more so. This Mortal Kombat may take itself a little too seriously even with what is involved with the over the top plot but as a martial artist and martial arts film buff, this movie was right in my wheelhouse. Think of it as a slick and polished B-movie fight flick that you would find on the shelf of a now extinct video store. All the participants involved deliver and have fun with what’s going on and the audience and most importantly the fans will have a great time with it.
The plot is rather routine and it follows the game to a “T” as there are numerous realms in the universe and every so often, there is a tournament that decides the fate of them. If you loose ten tournaments, very bad things will happen. As the film opens up, the earthrealm is in serious trouble as it has lost the last nine competitions and with a tenth loss, the relm of Outworld, which is the most evil and ruthless of all the realms, will invade and enslave all of mankind. Now that’s a bummer to say the least but there is hope and with this tenth tourney, a new breed of warriors are destined to fight to save the world.
Unfortunately, Outworld’s supreme ruler Shang Tsung (Chin Han) doesn’t play by the rules and he’s going to take all of earth’s fighters out even before the tournament happens. He’s assembled an elite team of vicious warriors who are more willing and able then ever to make sure Outworld doesn’t lose this one.
One particular individual named Cole Young (Tan) doesn’t even know that he’s one of the world’s last hope and he goes about his day to day routine fighting in MMA matches for a couple hundred of bucks at a pop. Young used to be a champion fighter but those days are long gone and now he’s just happy if he’s still alive after the match is over. He’s got a great cheering section as his wife Allison ( Laura Brent) and daughter Emily (Matilda Kimber) love him unconditionally and that’s good enough for him. Young does sport a unique birthmark though and as it turns out, it’s a mark that means you ar destined to fight for the fate of the world. No pressure or anything. He’s sought out by special forces bad asses Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee and Jackson “Jax” Bridges (Mehcad Brooks) because they know what’s happening and that Tsung is looking to eliminate all of them.
After he survives an attack by Tsung’s most lethal warrior Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), Cole puts his family in hiding and seeks out Sonya at the request of Jax and they, with ruthless merc Kano (Josh Lawson) go in search of Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple to train with fellow fighters and champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) so they have a fighting chance to survive and prevent the world from plunging into total eternal darkness and chaos.
Lets backtrack for a bit and talk about the film’s intro which introduces us to Japanese warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the evil Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) whose clans are at war with each other in feduel times. Bi-Han has it out for Hanzo and he unceremoniously kills his clan along with his wife and son. This leads to a battle between the two which sees Bi-Han coming out on top. This intro is important and it also delivers one of the film’s best fight sequences but we come to learn that Bi-Han eventually becomes Sub-Zero and Hanzo transforms into the equally ruthless Scorpion who is banished to hell. All fans and casual watchers know that these two iconic characters are the heart and soul of the video game and here they are treated with respect and certainly have the best scenes of the movie.
Fast Forward back to the present day and we learn that Cole is destined for something greater and he is actually a true decendant of Hasashi. With that the stage is set for a series of non-stop battles that are filled with easter eggs for fans and while the 90’s films were tame with a PG-13 rating, this version goes for broke and delivers a much needed fan service as it pays tribute to the source material and gives the audience one brutal and bloody fatality after another. This Mortal Kombat is blood soaked and dripping with carnage and fans will have a thrill watching it as it aims to satisfy this niche audience’s desires for a faithful interpretation.
The movie isn’t dull as there is action every five minutes or so and the fight scenes are ample with the cast getting all the opportunity they can to showcase their stuff. Each member gets their chance to shine and while some characters get more screen time then others, it doesn’t take away from giving the fans what they want. You don’t go into a film like Mortal Kombat expecting Oscar winning material and if you know what to expect then it’s one hell of a ride with this being one of the bloodiest and most brutal martial arts films ever made. The editing is decent and while I would have liked more wide camera shots, you can still see the glorious mayhem very well and the choreography is exciting even though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
Mortal Kombat has taken its lumps from many critics and fans but I’m here to tell you that I got exactly what I wanted out of it and I’m hungry for hopefully more installments in the future. Would I have loved to see Johnny Cage in this one? Of course I would but all of you who complained about his absense will hopefully be happy with the ending as it teases something to come for a sequel.
Lewis Tan’s character of Cole Young was a new fighter who was added to the lore and created specifically for the reboot and while he is a pretty straight forward good guy who is a little one dimensional, Tan does a great job with what he’s given and he excels with the many fight sequences he’s involved in.
Now lets chat about the great Joe Taslim shall we. Joe has been on my radar like everyone elses since he starred in the classic The Raid and has quietly over the years become of the best action actors out there. Whether he’s playng good or evil, Taslim always brings it and as Sub-Zero, Taslim is clearly the best part of the movie along with Hiroyuki Sanada who plays Scorpion. Sanada is middle aged but he moves like he’s in his twenties and he and Taslim bookend the film with its best shot of fight action. The only thing better than the opening scene was the grand finale where both stars let loose with a dazzling array of jaw dropping moves. I mean come on, there’s one point where Sub-Zero makes Scorpion bleed and when the blood comes out, he freezes it and then proceeds to stab the man with it. How could you not like that creative trick? Scorpion ans Sub-Zero are the cornerstone of the game and here they are without a doubt the best part of the film as well they should be.
Josh Lawson steals every scene that he’s in and he gets to have the most fun and the best lines as the two sided Kano. Is he good? Is he bad? Well the answer to that isn’t a shock but Lawson takes the ball and runs with it and his scenes with Jessica McNamee‘s Sonya Blade provide the most laughs and levity of the movie.
On a negative note, the one best part of the original Mortal Kombat film was the performances of the great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who brought the thunder as Shang Tsung and the even greater Christopher Lambert as Lord Raiden. Nothing against Tadanobu Asano and Chin Han but they never measure up to the other two and left me wanting more. Tagawa and Lambert owned those roles and here it’s like the other two actors were just trying to keep up. Also, I was never much of a fan for fight flicks that use superpowers in it battles. I always thought that the two opponents should just duke it out with their lethal skills and here some of the magic gets in the way and it did take me out of the fight a little. When it does happen though the special effects are decent enough but I feel it’s unnecessary as all I want to see is the physical weapons do what they do best.
The musical score is also fitting for the movie as it has some truly epic moments and elevates the action and mood of the film. Music can make or break a film and Benjamin Wallfisch puts the exlamation point on the thrilling essence of the movie. He even serves up an updated version of the iconic Techno Syndrome theme song and even though its a little more subdued then the original, it still is welcoming to hear and would have definitely been missed if it wasn’t included.
To sum it all up, Mortal Kombat is not going to please everyone but for the most part it generates excitement on all cylanders with thrilling fight sequences, nods to the video game and finally, the bloody version with Fatalities we have been waiting for. Only time will tell if we get more of these and I sure hope so as this is a martial arts film that is as advertised and it entertains with all of its madness and chaos. Viewers will certainly get their fill of the violent empty handed carnage on display and it is filled from beginning to end with it. If you know what to expect going in, you should have a good time and be warned, some moments are brutal. Taslim and Sanada steal the show when it comes to the action and rightfully so but everyone else gets an honorable mention at the same time. It’s not a Flawless Victory but it comes close on delivering what it promised. Mortal Kombat is downright bloody and brutal fun from start to finish!