Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Tadanobu Asano, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Haung, Sisi Stringer, Nathan Jones, Daniel Nelson, Damon Herriman, Mel Jarnson, Angus Sampson, Matilda Kimber and Laura Brent
MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
A washed-up mixed martial arts fighter named Cole Young is unaware of his hidden lineage or why he is being hunted down by Sub-Zero of the Lin-Kuei clan of assassins. Concerned for the safety of his family, he seeks out a clique of fighters that were chosen to defend Earthrealm in a high-stakes battle against the forces of Outworld in a inter-dimensional fighting tournament that occurs once in a generation.
Normally when the topic of film adaptations of video game properties is brought up, usually when the question of ‘What is the best film based on a video game?’ is put out there, more often than not the answer that usually comes up is the 1995 adaptation of Mortal Kombat, especially from people around my age bracket that grew up on it and the score by The Immortals. Over twenty-five years later, we finally get a new iteration of the Mortal Kombat property on the big screen (or renting on digital platforms, depending on the country you reside in like the UK/Ireland), adapted by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham and Simon McQuoid helming, making his directorial feature debut. We follow Cole Young, an MMA fight accustomed to taking a beating for money, who is unaware of his heritage, or why Outworld’s Sorcerer Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt him down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies from Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
A director with a background in directing commercials making his directorial feature debut, and try to do a big-scope film like this with a modest budget, by studio standards ($55m), that would please both the hardcore fanbase of the video game franchise and the general film viewing audience, the film definitely had its work cut out for it, and I must say overall I had a fun time watching it. With exception of the video games in the early days (SNES/Sega Mega Drive) and the 95 film, I have a basic understanding of the characters and the concept, so for me I found the film to be a nice way of reintroducing the characters and the story on the big screen. It should be no surprise that the main arc I was looking forward to seeing, also provided my favourite scenes in the film. Opening in 17th-century Japan, we see the collision course of bloody carnage as Bi-Han ruthlessly attacks the Shirai Ryu as he searches for Hanzo Hasashi, who retaliates against other members of the Lin Kuei before the pair face-off. For me I loved this sequence and it set the tone for what kind of violence we should expect to see over the rest of the films duration and tone….unfortunately the film wouldn’t reach that level for me until we get the rematch between the two later on in the film, but there is still some enjoyable moments sprinkled in between. The sequence involving Reptile and Cole, Sonya and Kano in the hideout I found to be well put together, as well as the look of Reptile considering the films budget. It’s also a small moment, but the way that Kung Lao is also introduced into the film was a cool nod too. Overall I really like the ensemble here, having Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada as Bi-Han/Sub-Zero and Hanzo Hasahi/Scorpion I thought were great choices and I really enjoyed their performances as these characters for the amount of screentime that both men have, they left a mighty impression on me. Another one that will certainly draw attention will be Josh Lawson as Kano, who certainly fills the void of a Johnny Cage-less film, dropping quirks and shit-talk left-right-and-centre, and he certainly felt like he was having a good time when filming. I really liked the score composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, particularly the way he pays homage to the original theme in different variations across the film, from the opening sequence involving Hanzo and Bi-Han in the past, to giving us the new iteration of the theme in the grand finale.
The fight sequences are at their best when they involve Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the film I’m afraid, in terms of how it is edited. While they will involve some cool moments (e.g. Sub-Zero using his abilities to break-off Jax’s arms, Kung Lao using his fatality), the fast-cut editing style feels like it undercuts every blow that is meant to land by either moving to a long-shot or focus on another characters reaction. The most obvious example of that is when Liu Kang constantly leg sweeps Kano during a training sequence and while it provides a chuckle, I would’ve liked to have the focus kept on at least one leg-sweep landing completely rather than constantly cutting to a different angle to see Kano fall over and then reaction shots from Cole to Kung Lao. Whether that’s done to it being a stylistic choice or whether McQuoid being a first-time director, I’m not sure, but hopefully if there is a sequel, they’ll have the confidence to let the fighting sequences breathe for a little bit longer so we can feel every blow and impact. Another element of the story that didn’t work as well as it could’ve done is its explanation and execution of ‘arcana’, in which those bearing the dragon mark from Earthrealm can unlock their unique special powers, and it just works as a device for characters to get their powers in the most convenient of ways, like some time their time to unlock them while others appears to have them without explanation. Outside of Kano (and maybe, oddly enough, Kabal), the rest of the characters have to either deliver a lot of heavy exposition (from Sonya, to Raiden, to Kung Lau) or they have to act so seriously that there isn’t enough personality for me to care about them. The most noteworthy of this is having Chin Han and Tadanobu Asano portray Shang Tsung and Lord Raiden, two really good actors portraying these larger-than-life characters and yet I don’t believe they were utilised much at all. Out of the entire cast though, the one that will be brought up the most and be criticised (unfairly I believe) will be Lewis Tan as Cole Young, an entirely new character created for the film. Tan’s Cole was already being criticised online before the film came out because he was seen has replacing fan-favourite, Johnny Cage, as the audience surrogate and, for me, the character of Cole Young is a rather bland role to play, and I think that’s down to not having the character react in particular moments as he’d be referred to as a ‘Johnny Cage wannabe’. It’s a shame too because Tan, as always if you have seen his previous performances in Into The Badlands and Wu Assassins, commits and shines the most in the fighting sequences. Having the film focus on building up to the tournament and have that setup to take place in the sequel is certainly a bold choice, but it remains a question whether audiences will be in for that or not. I for one, despite the issues I had with it, would look forward to seeing what they would do with the tournament element.
There’s a certain amount of enjoyment to be found in Mortal Kombat, with a few decent performances amongst the ensemble, though the film slowly stalls in the middle and feels rushed in the final act.