It’s not much of a flawless victory for these video game fighters.
Originally developed in 1992 (my birth year), “Mortal Kombat” is one of the most popular video games franchises (which I have zero involvement with, since I’m no video game expert), and was the first game to get a “Mature” rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). It also sparked some movies, including the 1995 hit and its loser sequel “Annihilation,” both of which were rated PG-13. The 2021 reboot is now given an R-rating, and it’s not as bombastic as the 2019 “Hellboy” was, because it doesn’t care too much about the violence and language. But it’s a movie I’d only recommend to people who are familiar with its source material, and not to those unfamiliar with it. I’m one of those people unfamiliar with it, so it wasn’t my cup of tea.
The movie opens in 17th Century Japan with the evil Bi-Han A.K.A. Sub-Zero (Joe Taslin) murdering the family of the wise ninja Hanzo Hasashi A.K.A. Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), except for his baby girl, who was taken by the wise and good Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the protector of Earthrealm. This butthole, under the leadership of the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han), has deadlier ice power than with Elsa (and she was originally written as a bad girl) or Mr. Freeze. And these series of battles is what they like to call, hence the name “Mortal Kombat.”
Now centuries later, Special Forces major Jax (Mehcad Brooks), whose arms were destroyed by Sub-Hero, and his partner Sonja Blade (Jessica McNamee) both must enlist the remaining champions of Earth-all of whom are born with a sacred dragon mark to duel with Sub-Zero. They consist of the fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), and the fireball thrower Liu Kang (Ludi Lin). And despite not having the dragon mark, Sonja and Jax, who survives Sub-Zero’s attack with a new pair of mechanical arms, join our heroes in battle.
And then there’s the wisecracking Australian mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) from the Black Dragon clan, who killed a champion and now has his dragon mark. The kindest thing to say about this character is that a backstabber, and I don’t think the remaining champions and fighters (because there’s an alleged difference) are surprised by his deception. In a way, I kind of liked the character for his sense of humor and behavior, which Lawson does a good job at easing into.
When Cole asks if Kano is Russian, he responds: “Do I sound Russian to you?.” I was reminded of when I was on vacation Italy in 2012 and asked a man where he was from (he was Australian BTW), and he responded: “Where do you think I’m from?.”Rude as he was, this moment in the movie still gave me that memento. And he also reunites with his former teammate Kabal (played by Daniel Nelson and voiced by Damon Herriman), who is in an iron suit. For their short moments, these two characters take advantage of the R-rating with the obligatory cursing, but it makes them seem more likable than David Harbour’s ugly portrayal of Hellboy.
There are some nice qualities in this “Mortal Kombat” reboot I liked, like Brooks providing Jax with style, Sanada giving Scorpion passion and moods, and the stunt work and visuals being entertaining in the video game sense. But as expected in a movie based on a video game, it doesn’t seem to fully deliver. It doesn’t give all the characters their full basis, as if everyone is supposed to know who they are. Yes, we grasp that Cole wants his family safe and prophecies must be fulfilled and so forth, but it still feels more like a teaser for its franchise, that is if it begins one.
Fans may or may not get a kick out of this, so I’d say “Yes” to them, but for everyone else, I’d say: “Watch it on the internet or TV.”
In Theaters and On HBO Max This Friday