Washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young, unaware of his heritage, and hunted by Emperor Shang Tsung’s best warrior, Sub-Zero, seeks out and trains with Earth’s greatest champions as he prepares to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Simon McQuoid
Screenplay by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham
Story by: Oren Uziel, Greg Russo
Based on Mortal Kombat by: Ed Boon, John Tobias
When you think of fighting games, one of the first to come to mind will be Mortal Kombat. Starting in 1992, Mortal Kombat has grown to become one of the biggest video game franchises with regular releases of the last near 30 years. In 1995 the games were adapted to the big screen, and while that film is quite good, it was held back by a pg rating which clashed with the bloody and violent content of the games. Now in 2021, we have an R-rated version of Mortal Kombat, one that hopes to make fans of the series very happy.
Much like the original game, Outworld has won the last ten Mortal Kombat tournaments and if they win their tenth in a row, they will be allowed to invade Earthrealm. Outworld’s leader Shang Tsung (Chin Han) doesn’t want to take any risks so he sends his assassin fighters to take out the competition before the tournament takes place.
Amongst those champions is the unsuspecting Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former MMA champion who has seen better days, now fighting anyone for $200. When he and his family are attacked by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), he soon meets Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who are looking into the history of Mortal Kombat.
If you are coming into this film hoping to experience a riveting narrative or a real character study, you will be leaving disappointed. The plot is designed to get the fighters from one confrontation to the next, with the occasional dropping of backstory in between. The middle training section of the film slows the momentum of the film significantly as they provide a lot of exposition and lore building.
Everyone outside of Cole and Kano (Josh Lawson) are given only a few moments to get their back story and character across to the audience. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) talks about his past to Cole right before Sonya discusses with Jax their mutual history. The champions of Earthrealm are all quite likeable but are hampered by cheesy dialogue and limited character growth.
The villains are also very underdeveloped with Shang Tsung doing little but bossing people around. I will say they did a fantastic job of building up Sub-Zero as a serious threat and the primary antagonist with very little dialogue. The number of different ways he uses his ice powers in the film was quite impressive.
Ultimately, you aren’t going to watch Mortal Kombat for subtle character work and fancy dialogue, you are here for the blood and action which Mortal Kombat delivers in spades. The fights are really well choreographed and actors like Lewis Tan, Joe Taslim, Ludi Lin, Hiroyuki Sanada and Max Huang the opportunity to showcase their martial arts skills.
While I’m not a close follower of the franchise, there are sure to be a number of moments that will make fans very happy, with a number of brutal and bloody fatalities and signature moves brought to life. The R18 rating is completely necessary with a lot of blood. All the characters look amazing and get a chance to showcase their abilities.
So let’s talk about Kano. It is safe to say that Josh Lawson stole the show with his humour and overall attitude as the bogan mercenary. I didn’t expect to find the film one of the funniest I’ve seen but here we are. The film manages to just edge up to the line of having Kano oversaturate the film, especially as it seemed like they just edited in every improvised joke that Josh Lawson made. Prepare to have your timeline filled with Kano gifs and clips because he provides so many memorable lines and moments.
Mortal Kombat is unlikely to win any screenwriting awards and is unlikely to change many people’s minds about video game adaptations, but the 110 minutes I spent watching were the most fun I’ve had in a cinema since the pandemic began. Do yourself a favour and go see it in a cinema (if you can safely) with a big crowd (if you can safely) and enjoy the communal experience of this bloody, funny film.
Ashley Hobley attended an advance screening of Mortal Kombat thanks to Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures Australia and Event Cinemas.