I never thought I would say this – but while streaming Mortal Kombat on HBO MAX, I found myself longing for Johnny Cage and his genital punching acrobatics. Halfway through the movie, I was hoping to hear Linden Ashby’s voice come in off screen, saying, “Those were $500 sunglasses, a_hole…”
Now that I have got that off my chest way, Mortal Kombat (MK) is a fun reboot and a good one-time watch. It is not, however, an outstanding film. But yes, much like a ‘Fillet o Fish’ at your nearest McDonalds – MK isn’t gourmet, but it is exactly what you paid for.
Mortal Kombat leans into its strengths, much like Godzilla vs Kong did. Balancing a campy tone and with ample gore – the film ensures that it is generations ahead of its 90s predecessor in terms of visuals. It also packs in enough experienced Asian actors in key roles, and gives us enough video game fatalities, brutalities, and irreverent references that will make franchise fans happy.
The fact that the movie does not take itself too seriously helps. The plot by itself isn’t anything new. Fans who have played the last two instalments of the game, seen the hyper-violent and entertaining Scorpion’s Revenge, seen the 90s movies or even watched the Machinima series will find themselves in familiar territory. What the movie does do well, however, is take the best bits from the diverse lore and “portal-hop” across them quickly – keeping Cole and the Hasashi clan’s story as the grounding factor.
However, this also means that the movie only takes off in its second half, when Kung Lao jump starts the proceedings with his “Flawless Victory”. That is a special fan-moment served with glee – and the movie only ramps it up from there.
Coming to the soul of the movie – the fights. While some fights are stunning (Scorpion vs Sub Zero, Cole vs Goro, Sonya vs Kane), some are downright clunky (anything with Jax or Liu Kang). Lewis Tan (Cole) and Jessica McNamee (Sonya Blade) throw in some good performances – whether with their fists, or with the script they’ve been handed – and Hiroyuki Sanada delivers his usual A game as Scorpion. While I did mention earlier that Kano (Josh Lawson) falls short as the stand-in for Johnny Cage, he does however deliver some of the funniest (and corniest) lines in the movie with aplomb. In terms of performances, the cast does well to embody the fan favourites they are playing, with a certain amount of self-awareness and humour that comes with knowing you are a video game character after all.
Mortal Kombat knows it is a video game movie and tries to own it as much as possible, making sure the humour is self-referential. It is, however, a definite victim of franchise baiting, sacrificing some good first outing opportunities. I wonder if benching fan favourites like Johnny Cage, Kitana, Shan Tsung and Shao Kahn for the sequels, or toning down the Outworld segments were worth the bait in case a sequel isn’t greenlit. With an hour and half runtime, Mortal Kombat is short, fun, and brutal – pretty much what the fans expect. Watch it when you can – without the kids around, of course.