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We are living in a golden age of movies based on video games, dear readers. Look at the likes of 2019’s Pokemon: Detective Pickachu and last year’s Sonic the Hedgehog.And now, another franchise has returned after more than two decades for high-stakes revenge. Mortal Kombat is a reboot of the original 1995 film and its sequel, based on the very popular and very controversial fighting game franchise that began in 1992.
There’s a lot to get excited about here. The franchise boasts a colourful cast of characters with the promise of literal gut-wrenching violence. Though at the same time (and this is the case with many movie adaptations), hopefully not neglecting the fundamentals of the video game it’s trying to recreate.
I am very pleased to report Mortal Kombat turns out to be everything it needed to be. And it comes with one-liners. So many one-liners.
What is the Mortal Kombat movie about?
Former fighting champion Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan) is down on his luck when he and his family are drawn into the world of Mortal Kombat, an age-old tournament held between the forces of Earthrealm and the desolate Outworld. Outworld only needs one more victory before it can invade Earthrealm, so it’s up to Cole to team up and train with the world’s greatest fighters.
The roster includes former soldiers Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), foul-mouthed mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), and seasoned fighting champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). All under the watchful eye of the all-powerful Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).
Meanwhile, the forces of Outworld are gathering and they’re playing dirty, led by the soul-stealing Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his champion Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). But there’s more to the tournament this time around as there are scores to be settled. And mysterious foes lurking in the shadows.
Mortal filming instruments
I was a tad concerned when it was announced Simon McQuoid was directing Mortal Kombat. It’s his feature directorial debut and while he has some awesome commercials under his belt, this movie is a big leap forward (especially when *cough* gamers make for a critical audience). His work proves solid though as the film is chock-full of high-paced fighting sequences and sweeping shots of contrasting environments.
The fighting never stops. Hell, characters will stop and take a break from their mission just to fight each other.
There are instances when the editing can get too fast. Certain sequences that can be strung together with just two to three cuts are Frankenstein-ed together with seven to eight and that can be jarring to watch.
McQuoid also decided to film the action up close. The upper bodies of characters in the heat of battle occupy the whole screen with their upper bodies. On the one hand, it makes the fighting more intimate and every punch feels the weight it looks. But on the other, it can make the scene feel less epic in the grander production. But whatever could be said about the directing, the cinematography and the overall substance of the movie makes for a well-executed outing.
Also, big props to the soundtrack. Benjamin Wallfisch, one of the best composers working today, summons a godly dose of orchestrals that fits right in with the movie’s tone. He even does the Mortal Kombat theme real justice.
All the action, all the time
Mortal Kombat dedicates a small portion of itself to map out the plot and give its characters a plastic film worth of backstory. Once that’s sorted, it’s all just fighting and it’s awesome. Blood is spilt en masse and the franchise that was lambasted by lawmakers for its gratuitous violence is allowed to shine. There are genuine moments of awe that left me and my fellow audience cheering for the action and the infamous fatalities that the games showcase.
Now that’s not to say the story goes anywhere. The plot is lifted straight out of the Mortal Kombat games, which is an overall positive. The movie has a very chilling and intense introduction that sets up the ultimate conflict and you are immediately drawn into all of it. All character arcs are paid off and the stage is set for a movie sequel with even more characters from the games.
Like I said, the movie is exactly what was called for.
Delivering those one-liners
The acting in the film is a mixed bag. Lewis Tan is better when he’s focused on the fighting stuff. His emotional moments with his family feel very forced. Cinematic storytelling dictates he be the lead character with personal stakes and a reason to fight beyond just saving the world as he knows it. He’s alright to be around.
Josh Lawson provides the comedic relief and is most definitely the charismatic one in the bunch. His vulgar attitude is surprisingly endearing. Jessica McNamee and Mehcad Brooks share good chemistry and are our main source of exposition. They do a good job.
And then you have Chin Han and Ludi Lin who I swear think they’re in the 1995 Mortal Kombat. Their dramatic delivery is outstandingly ridiculous. They’re also probably having the most fun of the people assembled here. All of the quotable lines leave you either smiling or rolling your eyes.
Mortal Kombat review verdict
Mortal Kombat is a video game on the big screen. It’s a fun movie with cool characters and bloody fight sequences that does the source material full justice. Certainly not high art, but the movie is competently made. And it does not shy away from what it needs and deserves to be.
Feature image: Supplied/Warner Bros.