Be sure to listen to me and fellow LAMBs discuss this flick on the LAMBCast: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2021-05-04T11_49_57-07_00
Now that I am fully vaccinated, I was lucky enough to see the new Mortal Kombat in my local theater which has new procedures to ensure the safest experience, and I am very grateful! It also dropped on HBO Max the same day, which I saw as a huge benefit. After watching the movie in the theater, I immediately came home and rewatched several bits of it on HBO Max.
The Mortal Kombat video game debuted in arcades in 1992 as a simple player vs. player button-smashing fighting game with unnecessary Ks replacing Cs. Sure, the characters had special moves, but like many other fans, I played by hitting as many buttons as possible as fast as possible. I did stumble across Scorpion’s fatality and have never forgotten how to pull that off on MK1. My family played MK1 and MK2 on our Commodore 64. Since then, there have been nearly countless versions of the games. My favorites are the ones with the largest assortment of characters to choose from, which includes MK Trilogy for the PS1, Armageddon on the PS2, and several of the reboots for PS3 and PS4. Inevitably, there will be another game for PS5 any day now.
With the popularity of the game, the first Mortal Kombat movie was released in 1995 and is one of my favorites. It was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and features several martial artists and camera work that shows the fights from a distance so that you can appreciate their skill – something I continue to look for in action movies with a lot of hand to hand combat. It was followed by a sequel so bad it is not worth mentioning. Since then, there have been a couple of live-action shows and one animated movie, but this reboot is the first one that stays true to the game and honors the fans in the best way possible.
The premise of Mortal Kombat is that there are various realms sending their best fighters to a once-a-generation tournament. If any realm loses 10 in a row, the winning realm can invade a losing realm. In this movie, we begin generations ago in feudal Japan and witness the destruction of Hanzo Hashashi and his family in the Shirai Ryu clan at the hands of Bi-Han and his Lin Kuei clan. I absolutely loved that Bi-Han, who will become Sub Zero, is speaking Chinese and that Hanzo, who will become Scorpion, is speaking Japanese. These are the two core characters from every game back to 1992, and beginning the movie with an incredible fight between them feels appropriate.
Jumping forward, we are introduced to MMA fighter Cole Young, his wife and daughter, and his MK Dragon-shaped birthmark. Jackson Briggs visits him to comment on the birthmark, just in time to save Cole and his family from Sub Zero by telling them to find Sonya Blade, but lose his arms in the process, which is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the games. At this point, let me mention that the movie sticks to the brutal violence of recent versions of the game and is rated R for a reason. Why there were so many kids in my showing is inexplicable.
Young meets up with Blade and meets Kano and gets in a fight with Reptile. Sonya tells Cole about the tournament because she has learned about it through research and tracking down ‘champions’ chosen to fight. The three of them head to Raiden’s temple where they meet Lui Kang and Kung Lao to begin their training. Meanwhile, the Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung is gathering champions of his own and has decided to buck the rules and kill the Earthrealm champions before the tournament even starts – winning by default. Once you get a look at Outworld, you understand why, it is a bit of a mess. Cole has to find his true fighting spirit – his ‘arcana’ (a neat way of explaining why the kombatants have supernatural powers) and defend himself, his family, and his friends. Basically – hijinks ensue.
The movie is directed by Simon McQuoid, and while the fight scenes are great, I would have loved even more of them. The hand-to-hand combat is wonderful and because this is a pre-tournament movie, the careful set up of each fight individually from the 1995 version is not present here. Basically, everyone is fighting for their lives. You can tell that the director, writer, and cast all have a respect if not raging fandom for the games and first movie. There are plenty of fan-service moments, from trick moves to fatalities, to quips and bits. Personally, I really felt the scene where Lui Kang repeatedly uses a leg sweep on Kano multiple times in a row during training - having lost many a fight to someone who figured out that one button movement. Despite striving for brutal violence in some of the finishing moves, the tone still manages to balance the fighting with some fun, and the movie feels like the perfect set up to a new franchise. The cast is wonderful and beautifully inclusive.
Lewis Tan was fantastic in both Into the Badlands and Wu Assassins (both currently on Netflix). While the addition of Cole Young felt a little strange in an IP that has dozens of characters available (in case you are curious, here’s the full list of existing karacters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mortal_Kombat_characters), he was the audience ‘in’ to this fantastical world. Everyone else around him got to be big and weird, so he has to be the ‘straight man’. Hopefully he gets to cut a little lose in the sequel.
Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade and Mechad Brooks as Jax are fantastic and feel true to the games. Josh Lawson as Kano was fantastically irritating – exactly as he should be. His interactions with Kabal were spectacular. Who knew Kabal would be one of my favorite characters in the movie?
Joe Taslim as Sub Zero and Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion gave both characters depths and charisma. I loved their fight before they become the characters and loved the fight in full costume once they are fully immersed.
Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden and Chin Han as Shang Tsung get to quip at each other while each trying to give their team the edge. I loved Raiden’s lightning effect but wanted a little more from Shang Tsung’s soul-sucking effects. Also, since Cary Tagawa is one of my favorite parts of the 95 movie, nothing Chin Han did for me for going to feel right – not his fault.
It did feel strange to have a Mortal Kombat movie where Lui Kang was not the central focus, but again, he may move more central in the sequel. I hope so, because Ludi Lin was very interesting and I wanted to see more of him. I felt like Max Huang’s Kung Lao was the one character that felt plucked directly out of the game and plopped on screen between the costume and the moves. Also – I enjoyed his level of snarkiness.
I do want to mention Sisi Stringer as Mileena, because Mileena has always been one of my favorite characters from the games. I do wish she was wearing a mask until the reveal of her teeth, but hey – I’ll take it. Mel Jarnson briefly appears as Nitara and Shang Tsung’s obsession with her was more than a little creepy. Nathan Jones played Reiko as he continues to pop up when I least expect him.
Overall, I found the movie to be really fun and very entertaining. The fights were great and the characters engaging. It was a little strange that the entire thing is pre-tournament, but that really sets up some options for a sequel to be very tournament heavy. I cannot wait to see additional characters in sequels (Baraka, Jade, hell – even D’Vorah). I was disappointed that Goro had no lines, the Goro puppet dining with Kano was one of my favorite bits from the 95 movie. I also would have liked some of the kostumes to be a little more accurate to the game, basically a little more kolorful. Sub Zero had barely any blue in his outfit, and Mileena was not wearing any purple. But again, that’s a minor komplaint.
9 out of 10.
Also – I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, if you have not activated the Mortal Kombat skill on your Amazon Alexa, you should. It is very fun!