It’s been years since I’ve played Mortal Kombat on a gaming console. I remember pressing as many buttons as possible, hoping that I was hitting some secret code to defeat my opponent. By the end of the match, I would be red in the face, and my thumbs bruised through over-exertion. While my character bled out from their heads on screen, I would ask my competitor for a re-match, and the cycle continued. Fight to the death, and fight some more.
The latest Mortal Kombat film has arrived on HBO Max and feels very truthful to its gaming origins. While I appreciated watching the movie from home, it would’ve been an even better experience at the cinema with a group of people. Each sequence features another grotesque slaying, and my disgust (and delight) was audible all the way up the street. The film captures the brutality of the fighting in the game and produces a story that, while thinly conceived, allows fan-favorite characters to slice, dice, and pound each other. Just watch as an opponent’s stomach contents are ripped from the torso, leaving only the spine in place.
Honestly, the most exciting aspects of the film are the fighting sequences where director Simon McQuoid, in his directorial debut, ably showcases these dueling battles with fearlessness. Though the script by Greg Russo and Dave Callahan is simple enough, viewers certainly aren’t tuning in for the dialogue. With a sequel being set up in the film’s final moments, there will surely be more ultra-violent combats and exhaustible grunting to come.
The film opens with a fantastic sequence in 17th century Japan as Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) attacks Hanzo Hasashi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) family. With his wife and son frozen to death, Hanzo tries to kill Bi-han but is unsuccessful, and his spirit is taken to the Netherrealm. Centuries later, in Earthrealm, an MMA fighter, Cole Young (Lewis Tan), has always had a birthmark. After being warned by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) of his destiny in the Mortal Kombat tournament, Cole is forced to protect his family. Without spoiling the fantastic sequence behind Jax’s and Bi-Han, now Sub-Zero, battle, let’s say it’ll leave you limp. Sub-Zero is on a mission to take out each competitor at the request of Shang Tsung (Chin Han), who wants to rig the final tournament.
Eventually, Cole meets the birthmarkless but insanely agile fighter Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and absolute raging psycho Kano (Josh Lawson). They bring Cole to Raiden’s temple to train for the tournament and to uncover what his power (arcana) actually will be. Only the villains arrive and announce their plan to disavow the game and end the battle. Soon, Cole, Sonya, and Kano discover the extent of their abilities and fight Shang Tsung’s team, thereby fulfilling a long-standing prophecy.
There are a lot of contexts that go into explaining the world of Mortal Kombat. McNamee’s Sonya is tasked with spewing a bucket load of exposition but thankfully does so engagingly. Fans of the game, subsequent video games, and other film adaptations will no doubt be able to elaborate on the intricacies of this tournament. But one thing is true: there will be blood. The violence is extraordinarily realized, and anyone not accustomed to seeing spears jaded into skulls or arms being amputated should probably avoid this film. Indeed, this is Mortal Kombat, and for infrequent gamers like myself, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of violence and how the sequences are captured. This film is not a throwaway adaptation: Mortal Kombat is exceedingly well-thought-out.
In one of the quieter moments, Kano, measuring his endowment through stern gazes and snide remarks, coughs up a large phlegm ball in his mouth, shooting it easily toward a small statue on the ground. The camera cuts to the sculpture as the phlegm drips slowly. I groaned loudly at the sight of it, and I’m sure a cinema filled with an audience would likely have created a chorus of groans. That shock value is what Mortal Kombat does best, even in its less assuming moments.
What an experience this would be to share in a cinema on a Saturday night.