Not a flawless victory, but enough of a brutal edge for audiences to enjoy.
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Out today, finally in Irish households is the long-awaited Mortal Kombat. From director Simon McQuoid, in his feature film debut, Mortal Kombat whips up a new version of the long-lived videogame.
The film follows Cole Young (Lewis Tan) a once-legendary MMA fighter who is down on his luck. He’s found one night by a man called Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and on that same night, he is attacked by an ice shinobi known as Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). The reason?
He has been chosen to fight in an ancient tournament to decide the fate of Earthrealm. Unfortunately, the baddies led by demonic sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) of Outworld are trying to wipe out Earthrealm’s champions because Cole could bring about a prophecy that stops the invasion of Earthrealm by Outworld.
Mortal Kombat is a ton of fun. The visuals are slick. The score is suitably epic. It gets your heart pumping as the fights are happening and then there is the signature gore. It’s phenomenal. The characters do rise and dip depending on who you ask though.
Kano (Josh Lawson) is easily a standout and you will likely be laughing at many of his quotable one-liners. He brings visceral energy to his role, he is the guy you love to hate and he brings much-needed levity at times.
Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) get exposition duty, which is unfortunate for any fans of their characters. Thankfully both Lin and Huang bring such a sense of oomph to their respective characters in both physicality and dedication. They rise above the limitations of their time on screen. Huang for example has one of the best moments in the film that will have fans of the videogame screaming from the rafters. Lin also has this presence about him. It’s a sense of danger mixed with inner serenity. I would best describe it as being in the eye of a hurricane.
The remainder of the good guys, Cole, Jax, Sonya (Jessica McNamee) and Raiden (Tadanobu Satō) are fine. Cole gets the lions share of the screentime. Unfortunately between introducing the world of Mortal Kombat as well as his story, the balance is off narratively and the film suffers for it. Sonya and Jax are the most human characters and unfortunately, this limits their potential because they only have a scene each where they get to go all out. Both Brooks and McNamee give great performances but much like Huang and Lin, they suffer from choices made in the narrative.
The antagonists of the piece are much like the game, a bunch of CGI fighters with little to no backstory unless you know the game. They are simply given the motivation to kill. Even Shang Tsung who was played to perfection in the 1995 film by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is nothing particularly noteworthy. Thankfully this lot is saved by Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero. Director Simon McQuoid and Joe Taslim bring a terrifying new angle to the iconic shinobi. The film treats him as a monster straighter out of a horror film. He is unstoppable, appears out of nowhere and delivers horrifying injuries to whoever is unlucky enough to get in his way.
I can’t speak about Bi-Han without bringing up his frenemy Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). Scorpion is not in the film much but his presence is felt throughout it and when he does show up the quality of the film, whether you love it or hate it, is elevated. This is down to the fight choreography as well as the chemistry between Taslim and Sananda. Much like the Mortal Kombat videogames, their rivalry carries a lot of this film.
Mortal Kombat got a lot right. The cast is energetic and fun, the score is frenzied which you want and the martial arts is bloody and brilliant. The problems begin to crop up however when you realise that Simon McQuoid and his team have overcomplicated the story with the introduction of a plot device that is completely unnecessary, the dragon tattoo. Champions are chosen by having a dragon tattoo which is fine, it marks you as chosen.
However, if you’re killed by someone it transfers to them meaning they are now the chosen one. This little bit of ink raises a lot of narrative issues. If this was gone and the film was simply about these fighters who are chosen by destiny I think this would have streamlined the story and made it more effective.
Mortal Kombat is a flawed but enjoyable film. Even though there are poor narrative choices the characters rise above them thanks to the dedication of the cast. It’s a credit to the videogame and I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming sequel.
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