Say what you will about 90s video game adaptations (there is much to be said, most of it not good), they weren’t dull. Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter and yes, the 1995 Mortal Kombat took big swings, even if they whiffed most of them. These moves reveled in their dumbness, and sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for. I love seeing deep, personal emotions expressed on screen. I also love watching a guy’s spine get ripped out. Such is life.
This is something the new Mortal Kombat reboot – bless its dumb, bloody, violent heart – understands completely. There’s a framework to Greg Russo and Dave Callaham’s script, but only as much as is required to get us to the brutal beatdowns. The plot only barely makes sense and the characters are hardly developed beyond their signature catchphrases. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for wild violence, and that Mortal Kombat delivers in gory heaps.
In case you need a plot, here it is: Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a fighter who learns he’s descended from a legendary warrior, Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Cole is recruited by ex-military operatives Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) to join an interdimensional battle called Mortal Kombat. The good guys, led by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) represent Earthrealm and fight for… um… Earth. The bad guys are from Outworld, and are led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Their ranks include Sub-Zero, Hanzo Hasashi’s blood enemy. Cole, Jax, Sonya and mouthy mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) show up at Raiden’s temple to train and join the fight.
There’s enough story and characters here to fit into an Infinity War-length movie, and if Russo, Callaham and director Simon McQuoid wanted to, they could have fleshed out every character’s backstory and given them full arcs. Mercifully, they skip all of this in the interest of keeping things at a violent clip and clocking the end product in at just under two hours. Sure, Mortal Kombat would have been a richer movie if it explained everyone’s motivation and explored their relationships. But great storytelling isn’t the point. Fights are.
So, how are those fights? They’re fun! McQuoid wastes no time, starting with a bloody battle in the prologue and barely stopping to breathe from then on. There are dragons made of fire, a guy with four massive arms, and a character who uses his hat like a buzzsaw. Early on, Sub-Zero freezes another character’s arms, then chops them clean off with his hands. Likely none of these moves are surprising to fans of the game, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they look very cool in live action.
Also cool: Lawson’s Kano, whose solid gold quipping stands out among a sea of pointless exposition-dumping and utterances of iconic in-game lines (to be fair, one of those utterances is his, and it is priceless). He’s the only character with a personality. Unsurprisingly, Lawson is also the movie’s most energetic performer, and has a great time sarcastically gnawing on the scenery.
In the end, your mileage with Mortal Kombat depends on what you’re hoping to get from it. It’s a movie for people with simple needs, and a desire to be mindlessly entertained for a couple of hours. If your expectations are any loftier than that, you’ll be disappointed. It’s hard to imagine, however, anyone coming in thinking they’ll get anything more profound than what’s offered here. It’s not great, but hey, it’s Mortal Kombat, and maybe that’s enough.