Before you delve into the wondrous magic that is my writing, I must tell you a secret: For reasons I don’t fully understand, the Mortal Kombat video games never exactly buttered my biscuits. Yeah, yeah–I’m aware of the visual splendor of watching spinal cords get ripped out and skulls crunched like packing foam. And there’s that badass techno theme, where the guy helpfully screams the name of franchise. Still, I played a few times, and…nada. Zippo. So, any diehards of the series will need to proceed with a chunk of sodium chloride. I may look like one of y’all, but it’s merely a geeky facade.
Now that’s outta the way, let’s take a gander at this here movie, shall we? Mortal Kombat begins in 1600s Japan, probably so the filmmakers can stage a fight scene out in some dew-covered forest. Hanzho Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a ninja relaxing with his beautiful wife and children. It’s a resplendent moment, and you just know it will be punctuated with a blur of snapped necks and perforated spleens. Bi-Han, a rival ninja who can command the cold, shows up to slice and dice everybody in sight. This bloody sequence ends with death, plus an eternal vow of vengeance.
Cut to the present day, and Earth is on the brink of destruction and/or enslavement. We’ve been getting our asses stomped in some martial arts tournament, and one more loss means annihilation. That’s when the villainous combatants from Outworld–they must be evil, because their world is slate-colored–show up and pop open a fresh jar of whoop-ass. Their fiercest champion is Bi-Han, who now goes by the name Sub-Zero. Naturally, the good guys have to assemble and fight for our planet. They’re led by Lord Raiden (Tadanubo Asado), a wizard-warrior who shoots lightning and probably spends a fortune in dryer sheets. This ragtag squad is rounded out with badass Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), bionic Jax (Mehcad Brooks), noob Cole Young (Lewis Tan), and Kano (Josh Lawson), a mouthy Australian. TL;DR: Kombat aficionados already know and love these characters. Newcomers probably won’t care much at all.
That being said, I doubt anybody watches Mortal Kombat with the hopes of emotional investment. A movie like this is going to be judged on its fight scenes, and I don’t think fans will be disappointed. From my limited Kombat experience, this adaptation pays homage to the classic franchise bits, including cartoonish violence and savage finishing moves. All the actors look a lot like their video game counterparts, and the script supplies them with plenty of cheeseball one-liners to cap off the soul-crushing carnage.
Of these players, Lawson makes the most of his sass-mouthed Aussie. Everybody else is pretty flat, but–once again–this ain’t supposed to be Downton Abbey. (Though I would love that mash-up.) I enjoyed it when the fight scenes got a little Matrix vibe to them, but I was otherwise fairly bored.
Roger Ebert once observed that there had never been a great live action movie with an elephant in it. (That’s with all due respect to Operation Dumbo Drop.) Similarly, has there ever been a really good movie based on a video game? That’s a real question. I’ll give you that this Mortal Kombat is a good-looking production, and the fight scenes are well-staged. There have certainly been worse video game adaptations. Still, I got bored with this one, just like I used to with the upright version, back at O.J.’s Hamburgers & Arcade. Real Kombat fans may love it, but skeptics should steer clear.
110 min. R.