A legendary video game receives a big-screen reboot in Warner Bros Mortal Kombat from director Simon McQuoid. The glory days for MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) are long gone and he is now accustomed to taking a beating for money to support his family. After his latest beat down, Cole meets Special Forces Major Jax (Mehcad Brooks) who inquiries about Cole’s mysterious birthmark that resembles a strange dragon marking. To Cole’s surprise, Jax has the same “birthmark”.
Initially blowing Jax off, Cole realizes that the Major is serious when Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) shows up and attempts to kill Cole and his family. Unaware of his heritage and fearing for his family's safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), where he also meets rogue mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson). Through a series of events, the trio finds themselves at the temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Lord Raiden informs them of a centuries-old battle involving Outworld's Emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han) as well as Cole’s connection to Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Cole soon beings training with experienced warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) as he prepares to stand with Earth's greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. But will Cole be pushed hard enough to unlock his arcana--the immense power from within his soul--in time to save not only his family but to stop Outworld once and for all?
My fandom for Mortal Kombat goes all the way back to 1992 when I first discovered it as an arcade game at my local bowling alley. One year later the game hit the home console market and it was my most requested gift during the Christmas season. In fact, I still remember the cheat code to enable blood on the Sega Genesis. Video games receiving adaptations to the big screen are nothing new. However, two previous adaptations, Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter were both terrible. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat got it right back then, but the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was horrid and was the nail in the coffin for any further theatrical films.
An animated series (Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm) a TV series (Mortal Kombat Conquest) and web series (Mortal Kombat: Legacy) all followed, but nothing lived up to the OG version until last year’s Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge. So how does the newest version of Mortal Kombat stack up? That is all going to depend on what you are expecting.
Now let us be honest, the 1995 version of Mortal Kombat is not Oscar-worthy material. That said, screenwriters, Greg Russo and Dave Callaham’s motive on the first film is to set up a universe, which they succeed in doing. Hailing from a commercial background, first-time director Simon McQuoid keeps the pacing of the film moving along for the type of film category that Mortal Kombat falls into.
An impressive opening scene fight between Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) kicks things off before we meet our lead Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Now on the one hand, I understand why the filmmakers chose to use a new character for the lead but I can think of other characters from the game who could have had the same arc as Cole. Tan does not really come off as a strong leading man, but when the credits rolled, he had grown on me. The rest of the cast who make up our heroes are there just to have fun and kick ass. So do not expect any character development, as that is not the intent. Kudos though to Josh Lawson’s Kano, who steals every scene he’s in with his comic relief as well as Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada who display great martial arts skills.
Sitting in the theater with a crowd, there were numerous moments where someone applauded when a character did a signature move or dropped an Easter egg reference. That said, the reboot of Mortal Kombat is for the fans who want to see fatalities and ass-kicking. With enough action and one-liners to qualify as a guilty pleasure, Mortal Kombat is mindless, yet violent fun. Bring on the sequel!
Final Grade B
Mortal Kombat is showing in theaters now and streaming on HBO MAX until May 23.