It looked pretty good, didn’t it? The Mortal Kombat movie made all the right noises ahead of release. Ultra gore – check! Fatalities from the games – check! Loads of characters from the convoluted Mortal Kombat universe – check! Unfortunately the finished article – out today to rent in the UK priced £15.99 – fails to live up to the hype.
Mortal Kombat starts strong, with a fantastic fight starring Joe Taslim’s Bi-Han – a ninja who goes on to become the frosty Sub-Zero – and Hiroyuki Sanada’s Hanzo Hasashi – a ninja who goes on to become the fiery Scorpion. There’s wonderful fight choreography to be seen as Hasashi flings a kunai attached to a rope (a cool origin story for one of the most iconic video game weapons of all time) through the heads of Bi-Han’s goons. It’s a fast, fresh action scene, and you can watch it in the video below:
And Mortal Kombat finishes strong, too, with a decent fight to bring the conflict to an end (for now – a sequel seems certain). But everything in between the top and tail of Mortal Kombat’s gory innards is a badly-paced snore-fest.
The main issue, I think, is the filmmakers’ decision to create a brand new character as the central protagonist. Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan, is a washed up MMA fighter who finds himself thrust into the b-movie world(s) of Mortal Kombat. Clearly, the idea was to provide the audience with a character they could relate to, a character they could hold hands with as soul-sucking sorcerers, four-armed monsters and thunder gods flash on-screen. The problem is, poor Cole is so mind-numbingly boring, it’s almost impossible to care about his fate.
The focus on Cole means established Mortal Kombat characters who do turn up feel rushed. Lui Kang and Kung Lao’s big screen appearance whistles by. I can’t remember Tadanobu Asano’s Raiden doing anything particularly interesting at all. Watching Mortal Kombat feels like going to a busy restaurant that’s desperate to get you in and out in half-an-hour. You know that feeling you get when a waiter comes over to take your plate before you’re finished? Mortal Kombat’s a bit like that.
It’s not just the good guys who feel short-changed, either. On the bad guys front, the likes of Mileena and Goro are demoted to props, rather than fleshed out characters. Chin Han’s doing his best as Shang Tsung, but he can’t escape the shadow of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s deliciously devilish original. Only Joshua Lawson’s Kano emerges from the incoherent plot with anything approaching a memorable performance. The foul-mouthed Australian has the odd funny line, and I liked his part in the film’s nostalgia-fuelled nod to Mortal Kombat’s overpowered sweep, but he can’t save the show. The acting across the board here is terrible.
That’s fine, really. And to director Simon McQuoid’s credit, he strikes the right tone. Mortal Kombat doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are plenty of nods for fans (I appreciated the fight on the Pit stage). And it’s schlocky – as it should be.
The toughest comparison here is not with the cult classic ’90s take, but NetherRealm’s video games. The Mortal Kombat games have some of the most outrageously over-the-top kills ever seen – and they’re great. They make you wince. They make you howl. Most make me laugh out loud.
The Mortal Kombat movie does its best to recreate the fatalities of the games, and as a fan of the franchise I appreciate the effort. But the constraints associated with getting an age-rating that would see the film actually come to market means the big-screen fatalities are just tame in comparison. Yes, Kano rips a heart out. Yes, Jax explodes someone’s head by clapping it. There are others I won’t spoil. Meanwhile, NetherRealm is doing stuff like this:
The fight scenes are the biggest disappointment, though. There’s just a complete lack of top-notch martial arts action. It’s all downhill in this regard from the impressive opening, I’m afraid. And while the final fight is okay, it’s got nothing on the likes of The Raid, which Joe Taslim also starred in. The fights here are boorish slugfests. People get sliced and diced and it all kind of washes over you. Lui Kang and Kung Lao deserved better.
The Mortal Kombat games do fight scenes better. The cutscenes in Mortal Kombat 11 are fantastic, and some of the motion captured martial arts puts Cole Young and co to shame. After finishing the movie, I thought to myself, I’d have had a better time watching the Mortal Kombat 11 cutscenes all joined together on YouTube.
There’s just enough low-rent entertainment to prevent the Mortal Kombat movie from being a complete disaster, but it’s tough to recommend when it costs £16 to rent online. A tenner straight to Blu-ray feels like a better fit.
You can rent the movie premiere of Mortal Kombat at home from 6th May.