Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 23rd, 2021
Mortal Kombat (Simon McQuoid, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Mortal Kombat, out today in theaters and on HBO Max, offers everything you could want in a genre mashup of fantasy, martial arts and gore. Interested in a four-armed giant? Check. Love your expo dumps baroque and impenetrable? Check. Care to see a flying, sharp-toothed monster cut in two with a spinning metal disk? Oh, you know it. Love inventive fight choreography? The movie’s got you covered. Yes, silliness and all, there are pleasures to be found inside the narrative mess that is this film. Unfortunately, they are overshadowed by a nonsensical script and mostly uneven performances. Director Simon McQuoid may keep the action flowing quickly, but without any grounding in strong characters, the stakes never feel meaningful.
What can one expect, anyway, from this reboot of a franchise based on a video game and first adapted for the screen back in 1995? Plot coherence was never its strong suit. Still, fans of that game should find plenty to keep them watching, as the often clever thrusts and parries of the many group and individual battles prove entertaining. Perhaps the best one, however, is the opener, set in 17th-century Japan and starring Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) as Hanzo Hasashi, a ninja whose bloodline will prove essential to the eventual outcome of the conflict ahead. There are some fancy visual effects here, but the overall result is quieter, and therefore more effective, than much of what will come.
That looming crisis centers around a legendary combat (the titular one) between the forces of Outworld and Earthrealm. I’ll spare you the full details, lest your head hurt as much as did mine while hearing it, but if the folks from Earth don’t win this next fight, we are all doomed. And so we gradually meet our champions as they each discover their destiny, gaining enhanced powers along the way. They are: Cole Young (Lewis Tan, Deadpool 2), Jax (Mehcad Brooks, Nobody’s Fool), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee, The Meg), Kano (Josh Lawson, Holly Slept Over), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin, Summer Knight) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). Assisted by the god-like Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano, Labyrinth of Cinema), they hope they can somehow win against the nefarious, cheating forces from the other side. Their chances look grim.
Not to worry, though, for we all know how things work out in films like this. Heroes will rise, despite the obstacles, and limbs will fly; sometimes, if we’re lucky, because they are severed, blood spurting in artful sprays. The less people talk, the better, for otherwise we are treated to such gems as, “I am no longer Bi-Han; I am Sub-Zero.” Try saying that with a straight face! Plus, very few of the actors, beyond Sanada, can pull off speaking their clunky lines. They’re much better in motion. If sanguinary ballet is your thing, then enjoy.