Written by: Greg Russo & Dave Callaham
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks
When bringing something quite absurd overall to the big screen, the tone dictates whether or not the minds behind the adaptation fully get what works about it. Taking inspiration from a video game as zany as Mortal Kombat requires the realization of it needing to be silly because the more you think about it, the dumber it gets. The creators of this film did not get the memo, which takes away from the fun of this feature even if it has plenty to enjoy as well.
Mediocre MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) and his family get attacked by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), also known as Sub-Zero. Narrowly escaping, he gets introduced into this multi-world fighting competition called Mortal Kombat that he must train for along with others from Earth. As they prepare, they learn about others not playing by the rules.
For all of its faults, the 1995 adaptation of Mortal Kombat knew exactly what it wanted to do with the ridiculous tone of its story. Cheesiness turned up to the maximum and for several moments just allowing you to do nothing but laugh, they understood how an adaptation of this video could work in live-action. Even with several detractors, that version has its fans, including this reviewer. Revisiting this world in live-action with more advanced visual effects and a higher budget meant more could be done and improved, but the main dagger to the heart harming this film comes from its joyless approach to the story and its taking itself way too seriously. I mean, this is an intergalactic tournament that has huge stakes, but it’s ultimately so silly. This gets lost in translation.
Starting out with introducing an emotional and personal battle between two of the most famous characters the game had to offer prior to their final transformation. This feature makes its tonal shift very intriguing. Seeing Hiroyuki Sanada take down dozens of adversaries comes as the treat we deserve, but once it shifts to the present, the feature gets not only boring but also so drab. Much of this issue comes from Lewis Tan in his portrayal of Cole Young. He becomes our “normie” introduction to this world as he receives all of the exposition he and we need to comprehend everything going on. The main issue arrives with this character being aggressively uninteresting to the point where I could not recall the character’s name throughout the feature. Taking a character no one knows about and making him the focal point of the story just feels like an unforced error.
Additionally, the so-called fatality of this feature comes from there being no actual tournament occurring. Listen, I understand the studio wants to build a franchise out of his source material and this feature serves as a setup to introduce the actual tournament in future films, but this iteration of Mortal Kombat falls into one of the biggest traps of franchise filmmaking. When trying to establish a universe, the audience first needs to be pulled in by a strong first entry, which will then set the tone for what will come. If you fail to nail the first feature then it may turn off everyone and the overall introductory feel of this movie fails to make a strong first impression with it only being a promise that more will come in the future. This does not help this particular experience and the film suffers because of it.
With all of this being said, the amount of bloody violence and the hard R rating this feature receives does deliver all of the kills fans of the game expected. From freezing off Jax’s (Mehcad Brooks) arms to Sub-Zero cutting Scorpion, freezing his blood mid-air to then use it as a dagger, it nearly made me give it a positive rating overall. It came close, as some of the kills and violence on display truly sells everything adored about the games, but this story primarily serves as a narrative feature first and in that aspect, it certainly did not succeed.
Never has Sub-Zero been more menacing nor has a Mortal Kombat feature ever been duller. This movie had me as an easy mark for the adoration I have for these characters and the story. Hell, you can find photo evidence of my brother and I dressed up as Sub-Zero and Scorpion for Halloween as kids. This film brings the promises of unbridled violent affairs like this story could look like with today’s technology but it ultimately fails in the timeless ideal of being an engaging story. Perhaps this feature will be the sacrificial lamb for much better sequels, but this one certainly did not get the job done.