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Mortal Kombat (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Mel Jarnson, Nathan Jones, Daniel Nelson, Ian Streetz, Yukiko Shinohara and the voices of Damon Herriman and Angus Sampson.

Screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham.

Directed by Simon McQuoid.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated R.

In full disclosure, I’ve never played any of the Mortal Kombat video games that this movie is based on. Nor have I seen any of the 1990s movies or TV series that this new film is rebooting. I get that I am not the movie’s target audience. Perhaps there is a deep vein of intelligence, wonder and nostalgia that I am just not picking up on.

But, simply coming into this world and this film as a stand-alone piece of entertainment: Wow, was this a bad movie. If I ever were to have an urge to go back and investigate the originals (and admittedly, that wasn’t all that likely), sitting through the new Mortal Kombat movie has probably cured me of that.

Let’s face it, in the whole history of movies based on video games, there probably hasn’t been one that really worked. And there have been tons that have been pretty terrible, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Angry Birds Movie, Silent Hill, Sonic the Hedgehog, Doom, Prince of Persia, Super Mario Brothers, and many, many more. (I’m not counting Pokémon because it was a card game before it was a video game, but those probably would make the list, too, although I hear Detective Pikachu was pretty good.)

The whole idea behind the two art forms is just too different. Games don’t necessarily ride on coherent stories or complex emotions. They are meant to make you react. They are primal: Kill the bad guy. Avoid the lasers or bombs. Drive faster. Jump over the void. Shoot the hell out of the place. And that’s fine. That is what the games are for – to get your adrenaline going.

However, you need a little more shading in a movie. You need a plot, and likable characters, and a narrative arc. Simply beating the shit out of every obstacle that gets in your way is not going to cut it on film. Besides, really, there is nothing more boring than watching someone else play a video game. Essentially, that is all these films are, an entire audience of people looking over some other player’s shoulder as he is having fun.

Occasionally the new Mortal Kombat film will have lighter moments where it is a bit self-aware and has fun with itself and its audience – like when one of the heroes derisively points out that the Mortal Kombat tournament name isn’t even spelled right – but these instances are sadly rather rare.

Instead, Mortal Kombat is focused on stupidly graphic violence. Literally, on a few occasions I was shocked at how grotesque some of the special effects were, and I’m certainly not squeamish or a prude.

Now I know there are some audiences that will go for particularly graphic scenes of death and mayhem, and for them Mortal Kombat will probably be a favorite. However, for an action-adventure melodrama based on a video game, Mortal Kombat more than dips its toes in the waters of the torture porn horror films that were briefly popular ten to fifteen years ago. It all seemed like overkill – both figuratively and literally.

Mortal Kombat has a mostly pretty unknown cast, in fact the only two actors I recognized were Hiroyuki Sanada and Mehcad Brooks (he left Supergirl for this?). There is not much in the way of deep acting here, but none is really needed. In a world where people have white glowing eyes and don’t even seem bothered when their bodies suddenly grow scaly armor with no warning, subtle line reading is not at a premium.

On the plus side, the sets and art direction are pretty incredible, and the special effects – even though they are often overly bloody and disgusting – are very well done.

The story? It makes little to no sense, but in fairness to the filmmakers I don’t believe they ever wanted it to. The plot is creaky, and the dialogue is clunky, but the movie seems to see those as necessary evils to move things along to the next battle royale. The script even goes so far to refer to the action on screen as a game.

That it is, but it sure as hell isn’t a good movie.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: April 23, 2021.


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