In the realm of video-game to film adaptations, it’s fair to say that most efforts have been poor. Even the better ones like Silent Hill or Tomb Raider are generally average films that failed to make the grade as must-see films. It’s been 26 years since the original Mortal Kombat arrived, and in all honesty not much has changed. There are more gruesome deaths, the effects are better and the fighting is better choreographed. But mostly the same spirit of bad acting and cheesy charm inhabits the new version much like it did in 1995, and for better or worse that’s about as good as Mortal Kombat gets.
Starting interestingly enough in 17th century Japan, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) leads his Lin Kuei assassins as they seek to annihilate opposition clan the Shirai Ryu – led by Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). Despite seeing off the attackers, Hanzo is killed by Bi-Han and his body mysteriously decomposes into the ground and into another realm. Despite his family being killed by Bi-Han, Hanzo’s wife successfully hid their newborn child in their home. After the battle, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) arrives and rescues the child. Several generations later, Hanzo’s bloodline continues with Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a poor MMA fighter who bears a dragon symbol on his chest. Despite believing it to be a birth mark, Cole finds out he is actually the latest in a line of fighters who must defend the earth from the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his Outworld warriors.
For a film based on a video-game that featured little dialogue, story or character development and literally involved killing your opponent in the most brutal of ways – Mortal Kombat spends a lot of time hanging around. After a beautifully staged opening introduces us to two of the franchises most beloved characters, we are soon thrust into the modern world where the story, or lack of, must be explained. The basics are very simple, and it’s frustrating that the film stutters when it does because the first act builds a lot of momentum, which is sadly dulled in the saggy second act. In his first full length feature film, it’s clear that director Simon McQuoid has a strong visual flair, while cinematographer Germain McMicking shows off some truly wonderful shots. But there is a also a sense that McQuoid has blunted several of the action scenes for one reason or another, leaving some of the fights feeling bland and uninspired.
That imbalance stretches throughout the film. The acting varies between committed and wooden, while the tone shifts between wanting to be gritty & realistic while also being completely fantastical. And yet, this also works in the films favour. It works by somehow creating a charm that harks back to the 1995 film, and feels very much like a spiritual update. The only thing this film is missing is Johnny Cage. This film dearly lacks his charisma, instead replaced by the rather dull Cole Young. At one hour and 50 minutes, Mortal Kombat is 20 minutes too long and is let down massively by its middle act. Still, Mortal Kombat remains a fun film, engaging in its fights and bringing these characters back to the big screen. If there is to be a sequel, then it will need to iron out the creases and concentrate on what makes this film enjoyable, while also adding a little more Hollywood flair.
Mortal Kombat is available on Digital Download now, and on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and VOD from 5 July.