TL;DR – Gory, gruesome, and yet also just a ton of fun.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.
Mortal Kombat Review –
When I was growing up, Mortal Kombat was this illicit thing that everyone knew about because the adults kept trying to get it banned. A baby Brian’s first experience with the Streisand Effect. So when you got to play it, well, it was almost an act of defiance, which of course, added to its appeal. As time when on, it mostly faded from my radar, and the two past films did not help, well more the second, the first still had the banging soundtrack if nothing else. But when you hear that they are doing a remake holding nothing back … well, this is something you need to check out.
So to set the scene, we open in on 1617, Japan, at the house of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family. Hanzo is the Shirai Ryu ninja clan leader, and as such, his home is well protected from threats. However, one fateful day while he was out fetching water, Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) of the Lin Kuei assassins arrived and killed all the guards and Hanzo’s family. They fight, but Bi-Han uses his ice to win the day and stop the prophecy of Hanzo’s bloodline being Earth’s salvation. Well, almost, as Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) arrives, he hears a cry call out from the house, for a baby had been hidden away and was saved from the slaughter. Today, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is just going about his life as an MMA fighter when that birthmark shaped like a dragon turns out to be a bigger deal than he ever thought.
Now before we dive into the review proper, I do need to preface everything that comes with a bit of a warning. This film is rated R in Australia, and well, the film very much leans into that world. If blood, or violence, or language is not your bag, then this film will not be for you. Honestly, I doubt you will make it through the first ten minutes as the film stamps down its presence and tone almost immediately as the blood starts to fly and the bone crunches echo across the theatre. Indeed, there were moments in this film that even I thought was shocking, and those previous things are not really an issue for me.
The first thing you see with Mortal Kombat is that a lot of care has gone into crafting the action scenes. What helps is that the film has cast many strong physical actors that know their martial arts, which gives you more flexibility in how the film is shot. An excellent example of this is the opening fight between Hanzo, Bi-Han, and his goons. As the fight proceeds, we see different bladed weapons being used, allowing for diverse close-up and ranged combat styles. The film also knows when to let that big long wide shot hang and when to cut in close. There are a couple of sections that do get a bit over-edited, but thankfully that is not the whole.
Where we see that physicality on show is, of course, in the lead Lewis Tan, who makes an immediate presence on the screen. You feel that energy from him as he fights and also has he gets his ass handed to him throughout most of the film. I never knew I needed Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim to stand apart from each other preparing to do battle, but wow. You felt every moment of that fight, every struggle, every shift in balance, what outstanding physical performers. Indeed, one of the strengths of this film is that most of the cast has a presence on the screen. For example, Sisi Stringer as Mileenais not in a lot of the film, but she makes every moment count. Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) did feel a little lost in the ensemble at times, but even then, they both got moments to stamp their presence in this movie.
Another area where the film shined is its interpretation of the original game that it is based on. One of the significant struggles of creating a video game adaptation is translating both the tone and the mechanics of an interactive medium to a passive medium. Many adaptations fall down because it would be more interesting to play the game than watch the film. Mortal Kombat combats this by understanding why people play the game and translating those aspects to the big screen. So on the surface level, it knows you want to hear “Get over here!” or “fatality”, and on that, it delivers. But more than this, the game is baked into the very DNA of this film. It has been a long time since I have played this game, but every moment a new character was introduced to the film, I instantly knew who they were because they have taken those core aspects of the character and put them on the big screen. Even if they look as silly as a flying hat. Also, as everyone is fighting, you can see them use their moves [and fatalities] from the game. You got to feel the surge from the crowd every time they nailed one of those aspects. It is the sort of feeling that I have not experienced since maybe Detective Pikachu.
While I was expecting it to be gory, and I was hoping the action would hold up. What I was surprised about was how funny this film is. Seriously, the joke-per-minute ratio was likely higher than many straight comedies that I have been to. A lot of this rests on the shoulders of Kano, as played by Josh Lawson, in what I don’t want to say is a star-making turn because he has been a mainstay of Australian cinema for years. However, I don’t think he has ever stamped his name on something as straightforward as he has here. In every nearly every scene he is in, it is better for him being there. However, as the film continues, some of his interjections move from the funny to the uncomfortable, which would have been an issue if the film had not addressed this.
While there was a lot about the film that I liked, not all of it landed as well as the punches. While the close up visual effects was spectacular, and every moment they were on location looked the part. There were several wide shots where the compositing felt a little off, like a bad old school matte painting. The moments where everyone was together and interacting were entertaining, but some of the connecting tissue they used to get to those moments didn’t always work. This is the same for some of the emotional beats that don’t always land. The biggest hurdle is that I don’t think the ending entirely upheld narratively everything that came before. But none of these are deal breakers for me because the rest works as well as it does.
In the end, do we recommend Mortal Kombat? Well, yes, yes we do, but with a big asterisk. As I mentioned, this is an incredible gory film. They take the idea of recreating the fatalities seriously. The gore and the language are likely going to be deal-breakers for some people, and you probably already have a good idea if that is you. But that aside, I don’t think I have felt this kind of energy from a crowd in a long time. You felt every hit, I laughed until my sides hurt, and most importantly, I would like to see more. If you liked Mortal Kombat, I would also recommend Dredd to you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Mortal Kombat
Directed by – Simon McQuoid
Story by – Oren Uziel & Greg Russo
Screenplay by – Greg Russo & Dave Callaham
Based on – Mortal Kombat by Ed Boon & John Tobias
Music by – Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography by – Germain McMicking
Edited by – Dan Lebental & Scott Gray
Production/Distribution Companies – New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions, Broken Road Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures & Universal Pictures
Starring – Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Mel Jarnson, Nathan Jones, Daniel Nelson, Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, Matilda Kimber & Laura Brent
Rating – Australia: R18+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 18; New Zealand: R16; United Kingdom: na; United States: R