Text review after the jump:
I’ll be honest, folks – I was really hoping against hope that the new “MORTAL KOMBAT” would either be very good because, hey, I like martial-arts movies and I like “MORTAL KOMBAT?” But also I sincerely appreciate that they filmmakers here have been (apparently sincerely) leaning hard into the “Hey, here’s a franchise where a BUNCH of the main characters are Asian and otherwise people of color and we haven’t really centered that in the presentation before so how about let’s?” …or very bad because then at least there’d be some regrettable comedy to be had at its expense.
What only compounds the frustration that’s it’s neither (while erring decidedly on the bad side – this is a turkey!) is the knowledge that “reviews” of this property in particular are meaningless because it “won” the winnable part of the property’s fanbase the minute it secured an “R” rating; so any discussion to its relative merits (versus prior attempts or even any other feature in the genre) will inevitably be checked with: “Okay ya but… they SHOWED the FATALITIES this time, right!?” and, to be sure: Yes, 4 or 5 of them – But really only two of the ‘famous’ ones and only one extra-gnarly one (no prizes guessing which it is – why the hell else is Kung-Lao here?
As ever, the least interesting, most disappointing place anything like this can end up is “somewhere in the middle” aka BORING – and unfortunately “boring” or “compromised” is about where “MORTAL KOMBAT” always seems doomed to wind up in the realm of adaptation: It’s unifying conceits are being at once absurdly silly (a quote-unquote “mythos” that’s somehow equal parts stupid and impossibly-complicated, told through an aesthetic that unifies 70s Grindhouse Kung-Fu and Power Metal panel-van art) and absurdly violent meaning that one or the other is going to get watered down to meet niche-market spending demands for even a modestly-budgeted blockbuster – or, in this case, $95 million that apparently bought them some dodgy greenscreen, decent-looking (when they aren’t moving around…) CGI monsters, some very small, weirdly-overlit interior sets and A LOT of scenes where characters stand around in deserts or shale quarries while not-subtle-enough digital color-grading (OutWorld is purple now) and specks of CGI background detail try to convince us we’re someplace interesting (we are not.)
Speaking of locations, though, I’ll give the movie this: it’s the first time I’ve ever heard the obligatory loud/angry action-film dialogue re: “Get out of here and we’ll rendezvous at sector something something!” expressed in the specific form of “You need to get to GARY INDIANA!!!!!!!” and for some reason that was hilarious to me.
As ever, I remain unclear why any of these adaptations of video games about martial-arts tournaments always feel they need “more” of a storyline than: “Hey. So they’re having a Fighting Contest. Here’s all of the various characters who’re competing in the Fighting Contest. I wonder which of them will WIN the Fighting Contest?” And this being “MORTAL KOMBAT” it carries to extra gimmicky flourish that the nominal “purpose” of said fighting-contest is determining whether or not an army of generically-Orientalized monsters, ninjas and… I guess sometimes just regular criminals or whoever? from “OutWorld” get to invade Earth if they win. So you’d think that would always be enough to just get right to the movie but – no, this is sadly not the case. (In fact now there’s even further nonsense about a global hunt to find “ancient evidence” of prior tournaments scattered about “Ancient Aliens” style effectively identical to similar scenes from the “MONSTERVERSE” movies and both versions of “JUSTICE LEAGUE” so if someone would please take Warner Executives’ DVR episodes of “ANCIENT ALIENS” away that would be lovely.)
And like any every studio genre movie that would love to be a franchise but doesn’t want to commit to a “project” or anything; in lieu of developing characters, narrative arcs, themes, ideas or a coherent singular storyline all of the parts where people are NOT kicking eachother (which, surprise, there’s far too much of…) is taken up by tediously explaining all of the Magic MacGuffins, literal plot-devices, physical onscreen story-devices and X-must-happen-because-Balloon lore claptrap that somehow only MARVEL ever figured out only really works when you bring it up IMMEDIATELY before you actually plan to use it and then retroactively pretend there was a really tight plan all along. (Say it with me now: You’re not actually supposed to give a damn about “lore” until after it happens – that’s why it’s called LORE!)
But we’re here anyway, so the new twists to the already completely arbitrary rules of “MORTAL KOMBAT” are that the “Earth Realm” fighters are chosen by fate expressed via legacy-birthmarks of the Mortal Kombat symbol… which I guess is supposed to take care of the “Why doesn’t Raiden just collect all the top Kung-Fu guys in the world instead of just whoever wanders into this situation because of their own bullshit?” question… but also if you kill another person who has a mark YOU get the mark which, okay, “feels” like it could open up some storytelling possibilities but is here used almost exclusively as a way to give Sonya Blade (blonde, army-pants) an actual unironic sad/mopey “They’re not letting me into the Superhero Club because I’m a GIRL!!!” storyline vis-a-vi she DOESN’T have a mark and is only initially running with Team Earth Realm because she’s friends with someone who does (“Jax,” Black, robot-arms) even though she’s just about as good at kicking people as everyone else so she doesn’t get to literally play in the sandbox with the boys aka the fighting-pit where the good guys have to do Shaolin Crossfit with Liu Kang (Chinese, stoic) and Kung Lao (also Chinese, less stoic, wears hat) so they can “unlock” their respective Special Attacks.
And if you’re thinking “OH! So she’s gonna be the person who unlocks her special-attack on her own because the power was inside her all along because this millenia-old tournament run by asshole gods maybe DOESN’T know everything even about its own stuff – thus putting a helpful lampshade on how none of the actual parameters of this make any sense and giving the film a coherent theme to unify the good guys, make them distinct from the villains AND get the audience on their si-” nope! She’s just gonna eventually kill the one “good guy” who actually isn’t so none of it actually means anything.
Besides, she’s not the main character – that honor this round has gone to Lewis Tan playing an (ahem…) “New Character” named “Cole Young” who… alright, here’s the thing: I rewrote this part of the review about twelve times and I STILL bet the film and/or studio rewrote his entire character and “ARC” more times than that because while Tan is actually pretty damn good here as both action-hero and just “guy playing a real person amidst all the fantasy-ninja-monster stuff” his role is one part empty cipher and one part nonsensical lore-device and the two parts were clearlydesigned to “pay off” together in a way that feels like someone changed their minds about a couple times.
I’m trying to be nice about the spoilers here even though anyone looking at the trailers and posters re: which characters they’re using to promote this who would give a damn has already figured it out but basically there’s a lot of free-floating backstory about ancient rival fighters who got killed a long way back and maybe/maybe-don’t have descendants fighting in the tournament today (oh yeah: I’m also still unclear as to whether “THE TOURNAMENT” actually took place or not during the course of the film – that’s how little sense any of this makes…) and obviously Cole is connected to this because he keeps having nightmares about dead guys we saw in the prologue and Hell(?) and “something” was obviously supposed to happen that was meant to be MUCH more of a surprise than it is because after an hour of him moping around about “Why am I even here!?” someone just… tells him? As though they apparently could’ve just done that all along and just didn’t? And adjacent to this it feels like someone was supposed to discover something about their Mortal Kombatant “lineage” and “take up a mantle” of something but instead another character shows up almost literally with “No, I’m just back now!” so… suffice to say, will be eventually interested to know what happened there.
There is some material I liked: When we actually get them the fights are decent, especially when it’s the old pros playing… “certain people” going at it in bookend sequences that feel almost completely disconnected from the rest of the film. Like I said Tan is trying admirably hard to establish himself as the real deal in the midst of a movie that feels like it couldn’t give less of a damn, Josh Lawson looks like he’s having fun as Kano (Australian, comic relief) – though not as much fun as I did trying to time out how fast the seemingly much-more-powerful-than-everyone-else “CGI Monster” characters on the villain team were going to get jobbed-out because they’re too expensive to show for very long, but that’s me. I also liked subtle business like the Chinese and Japanese characters (“MORTAL KOMBAT,” to its credit, knows that Ninja and Shaolin are from two different East-Asian cultures – even if it cheerfully refuses to adhere to that knowledge) talk “around” one another in their respective languages they subtitle BOTH of them instead of having whoever we’re supposed to “like” speak English. I liked Mechad Brooks as Jax spitting out “I did seven tours!” as sufficient mid-fight explanation for why he can sort-of hold his own as a normal human against magical demonic Ninja. I really dug that they decided part of Sub-Zero’s (Blue Ninja, does ice things – SOMEHOW they miss the layup joke of having any of the good guys refer to him as “Elsa” even though one of Cole’s hypothetical “character” traits is “has a daughter”) hand-to-hand style is just… making his hands really cold and grabbing/wiping them on you because freezer-burn just kinda hurts ON IT’S OWN? Thumbs up whoever figured that out.
Honestly? My favorite part was when KABAL (mask-guy, looks like he wandered over from “THE MANDALORIAN”) shows up as part of a Bad Guy Team that’s otherwise kinda D-list except for Mileena (whos’ still just kinda “there”) because they’re doing Fatalities BUT they also want to do sequels maybe so they can’t kill too many of the popular people and he’s JUST a guy in a bulky/stompy cosplay robotman suit with like practical light-up eyes and the actor bobbing his head around so they know where to put the vocals in post and its Dan Herriman doing this goofy as hell over-the-top cartoon tuff-guy voice like [impression] and it’s COMPLETELY different from everyone else in the movie and every time he shows up it’s exactly like “POWER RANGERS” where they’d give the Sentai Monsters old-time vaudeville voices so we could tell who was talking and… yeah it’s dumb but if the rest of the movie was this kind of dumb I wouldn’t have been so annoyed. I mean… they knew they were making “MORTAL KOMBAT” right?
I honestly feel really bad here because it does feel like the people actually MAKING the film had the best of intentions, a lot of what went wrong here feels like it did so on the executive side but… yeah, this is pretty bad. yes, I’m glad they did a couple kinda-gory parts too; but not only is there too much nothing-interesting happening in the middle of it for there to be enough plot or characterization for me to care about anybody – there’s also not NEARLY enough fighting happening. HOW – out of everything else you can screw up in this specific property – do you screw THAT up?
3/10 – skip it.