Mortal Kombat is all bland sequel-setting that fails to even deliver impressive fight sequences.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 Mortal Kombat is the most straightforward and least of his video game adaptations, though it is the most beloved by nostalgic gamers. All of this can be chalked up to the movie’s lack of an original character, represented in both Resident Evil and Monster Hunter by Milla Jovovich. These characters might be viewed as Anderson’s original sin, the point from which the filmmaker deviates from fanboy-worshiped texts and does his own thing, source fidelity be damned. They are also essential to what makes those films good: Resident Evil’s Alice is a means by which Anderson turns the horror game into a playground for his Alice in Wonderland-adjacent pet themes, and Monster Hunter’s Artemis, a disoriented outsider transported to another world, allows Anderson to preserve the game series’ famously arcane reputation, embedding it within the text itself. His Mortal Kombat, however, is as simple as its source material demands: a bunch of highly-skilled and super-powered fighters fight to the death in a tournament.
Simon McQuoid’s new take on Mortal Kombat forgoes that simplicity in favor of a bland original character and sequel-setting world-building. If there is no actual tournament in this movie, it’s because it has been boldly saved for the sequel, so strap in for the Mortal Kombat Kinematographic Universe (MKKU). This original character is Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a young but washed-up mixed martial artist, getting by on taking punches to the face. There isn’t anything interesting about him, save that he is the descendant of the warrior Hanzo Hasashi AKA Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and bears a mark (literally the Mortal Kombat logo) that means he has been chosen to compete in the upcoming tournament between the realms. It’s stupid stuff, and Cole is simply a cipher meant to onboard those who do not care about the reams of lore motivating the main event which is, as ever, very gory fight scenes. Between those scenes, characters from the video game appear and introduce themselves, each getting a dramatic introduction that invariably ends in them saying “I’m Kung Lao” or whoever it is that they are before going on to spout some nonsense exposition without gusto. All this introduction is coupled with a plot that, again, does not include an actual tournament, and it makes the film seem as though it was adapted from a character select screen rather than the game itself. Of course, you can’t actually choose the character you’re watching, and are instead sadly stuck with Cole.
But in fairness, all a Mortal Kombat movie really needs is a series of fight scenes and some cartoonishly gory death-dealing when you get down to it. Technically, this film has both. Unfortunately, most of these fight scenes are so poor as to not even register, all of them unimaginatively staged and choreographed, with editing even more obscurant than your average American blockbuster. Worse is that most of these fights are group brawls defined by rhythmless cross-cutting that makes each individual combat — sorry, kombat — seem more like a brief part of a blur. There are precisely two passable fights in the entire film, and they’re both between Sanada and Joe Taslim, who plays Sub-Zero. These are not better because of some uncommon filmmaking spark, but simply because these two actors know what they’re doing, though even their big fight quickly devolves into CGI superpower nonsense. Every bout ends in one of the series’ signature fatalities where a character squishes their opponent’s head, rips out their spine, or lights them aflame, and all of these are disappointingly realized with bad digital effects — the most recent game fares remarkably better in this regard. But if there’s anything McQuoid brings to the series, it’s yet another way to finish off your enemy: sheer boredom.
You can currently catch Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat in theaters or streaming on HBO Max.