Another attempt at bringing the Mortal Kombat video game series to the big screen has come and gone. This time, however, it’s a resounding success across the board – doing the games justice and pleasing fans without outright alienating anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise’s history. The narrative follows Earth’s greatest champions as they stand against the enemies of Outworld in a must-win battle.
The reason why this movie works so damn well is not because it’s a masterpiece or that it harbours the most thrilling narrative of the year. It’s because the writers, and debut director Simon McQuoid, understood exactly what makes Mortal Kombat special and have reflected all of those points without trying to create anything more. They know exactly what their audience wants, and have delivered exactly that. When it comes to the narrative, it’s successful in its simplicity. You can delve deeper into character relationships and histories, but at surface level it’s the heroes of two worlds going toe-to-toe in brutal battles to the death. That’s all this film needs – it’s a simple narrative to get things from point A to point B, and it works.
The opening sequence sets everything up brilliantly, and the main narrative arc kicks into gear almost immediately after that. There’s little to no downtime as the story just continues rolling towards the climax with no signs of stopping. It sometimes rushes through some key moments, but overall hits the main beats without much issue. There’s a solid balance of time spent on character building, world building and just straight-up bloody violence. This balance means no one element ever gets too repetitive, creating an engaging adventure the whole way through – if you shut your brain off for a little.
Enough about the story, that’s not why you’re here, you want to know how the action is. I’m proud to announce that, as they should be, the action sequences in here are absolutely brutal. The big sell of the games is the over-the-top extremity of the fighting. That’s reflected here through every action sequence. There’s blood flowing, body parts flying and more fatalities than you can count, resulting in a marvellously entertaining film. The combat is so thrilling, you cannot take your eyes off the chaotic beauty unfolding on the screen. Especially if you’re a fan of the games, there’s some classic references spread throughout.
Speaking of these references, they’re handled in such a way that ensures they don’t stand out as being forced in there for the sake of fan service. The classic quotes, characters and fight moves are definitely all in here, but they’re weaved in smoothly so non-fans won’t even bat an eye at these moments. Basically what I’m getting at here is that all of these things, from the story to the action and the fan-service moments, are executed very well for the type of movie this is trying to be.
The ensemble cast is decent across the entire film. Lewis Tan does a fine job leading the way as Cole Young, but it’s the characters and performances surrounding him that make all the difference. Jessica McNamee is solid as Sonya Blade, Joe Taslim is menacing as the villainous Sub-Zero and Tadanobu Asano is good as the wise Lord Raiden. The fact is, if you take out and replace any of these supporting characters – it will leave a little hole in the film, whereas if you replace Lewis Tan’s Cole Young – it probably won’t make much of a difference.
That being said, the undisputed best character in this entire film is Kano, played phenomenally by Josh Lawson. This performance is the difference between the movie being good and f*cking great! His first scene is a turning point in the film. He instantly fills the room with this contagious charisma that lightens the mood. For the rest of the runtime, literally every line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth is perfect. If the Oscars were right around the corner I’d be nominating Josh Lawson. The outrageous swearing and clever one-liners really just cap off every single scene with a touch of brilliance.
In the end, Mortal Kombat is certainly not for everyone. There’s a very specific audience that it’s going for and everything it does is to service that audience. If you want a film that’s light on narrative, yet still compelling, and focuses on extremely violent action sequences where blood, guts and limbs go flying across the screen – then this is for you. Some of the dialogue is quite cheesy and doesn’t hit the right notes, but it barely makes an impact on the film’s quality. If anything, I’m here wanting more of this universe. It sets itself up for the possibility of sequels, and I’d gladly welcome even more insanely brutal action with open arms.