MORTAL KOMBAT, directed by Simon McQuoid, is a reboot of the franchise’s film companion. Some may recall Paul Anderson’s 1995 hit movie, memorably starring Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Christopher Lambert. This reboot often followed some of the same beats, and featured many of the same characters.
Familiarity with the lore and characters is not required. Fans will recognise imagery, foreshadowing, and select quotes, but such things are more like bonuses for them. The film is still enjoyable for people who may have never heard of the earlier movie or game.
A rundown for those unfamiliar with the franchise: it’s based on a video game series, the first of which was released in 1992, and quickly developed a reputation for graphic violence and gore. The story takes place within a universe of many realms, of which Earth is a prized one. A martial arts tournament, Mortal Kombat, was created by ancient gods. The tournament takes place each generation, and upon a 10th victory, determines whether one realm can conquer another. The fights are to the death, and many fighters use mystical martial arts that produce magic effects.
Much as the plot of the ‘95 film, Earth has lost the prior nine tournaments, making the upcoming one of particular importance. The film’s protagonist is an MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Cole is a new addition to the series. This caused some upset among fans, but it’s interesting to see events through the eyes of an outsider. Cole soon meets other champions of Earth: Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), and Liu Kang (Judi Lin).
Setting up for the storyline of the first game, the film’s antagonist is a sorcerer named Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Tsung is from a realm called Outworld. In defiance of the tournament rules, Tsung plots to guarantee a tenth victory, and sends fighters to assassinate Earth’s champions. Unlike the ‘95 adaptation, this film doesn’t take place during the tournament, but in the time leading to it.
Alongside the main plot, the history of two famous fighters is unveiled. A centuries old feud between Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Two of Mortal Kombat’s legendary characters. It wouldn’t live up to the expectations without some people dying, but as Tsung says, “Death is only another portal.”
The visuals are often as over-the-top, as they are inspired. Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) is the Elder god charged with protecting Earth. His eyes glow, and he commands lightning bolts to attack and teleport. Sub-Zero wields the powers of ice, freezing victims, and producing frost with each step. There is a lot of exceptional martial arts action, both skilled and super powered. The game is known for fantastic fatality movements, of which some are realised on screen. Surprisingly wonderful was the character Kano (Josh Lawson), a reputed criminal leader, and a hilariously rogue Australian.
Although this reboot didn’t achieve a flawless victory, a gameplay term, it did provide a solid update to the franchise, which hasn’t had a big screen outing since 1997, of which MK ANNIHILATION (John Leonetti) was not well received. With the promise of a sequel, this 2021 film has set the stage, and should leave viewers with anticipation.
MORTAL KOMBAT is now playing in available theatres as well as Premium Video on Demand in the US and Canada.