Review: 'Mortal Kombat' another lousy video game adaptation
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
When bad techno music starts blaring and characters spout cheesy one-liners that would make a drunken uncle laugh, you’re probably watching a lousy cinematic adaptation of a beloved video game. Full disclosure, I didn’t play “Mortal Kombat” - the original property of which this 2021 iteration is based on - to the extent most fans forking over the cash to see this in theaters have, and it’s apparent within the first 15 minutes this movie will be for them. There’s confusing lore and mythology that, to the untrained eye, lacks depth, but those who live, breathe, and sweat what makes the “Mortal Kombat” universe tick will probably walk away satisfied. The battle sequences are slightly stimulating, if a bit chaotic and not entirely focused. One thing going for this feature as opposed to the 1995 version is that R rating doesn’t go to waste.
Sadly, Simon McQuoid’s “Mortal Kombat” marks another video game adaptation that never finds its mojo, joining a laundry list of titles who fail to translate their success from the small screen to the big screen. Initial chatter had led me to believe this could be the “one,” but “Mortal Kombat” is no different than several “Resident Evil” movies and “Super Mario Brothers.” Each lacked a certain element of characterization needed to keep us invested in the outcome, and all failed to rope in a legion of fans outside of their respective base. If backed into a corner, I could make the case that the first “Resident Evil” is, by default, the best video game adaptation, but that’s a story for another day.
At least McQuoid, judging by the detail and specifics of the maps and set pieces, is a fan of “Mortal Kombat” and not someone hired in from the studio, here making his big-screen debut after helming a string of commercials. He directs the blood-fueled violent knuckle beat-downs with a sense of style and flair, and includes the signature spine-rip kill and tags on the obligatory: “Get over here!” as if to wink at the camera. Nobody who isn’t remotely familiar with the video game logistics will understand the reference and therein lies some of the problem.
After a nearly 10-minute opening prologue which acclimates us into the “Mortal Kombat” universe, we’re thrusted into an all too familiar terrain of a desperate, washed out fighter struggling to find purpose in life. Enter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) a mixed martial artist who fights for scraps and is barely making ends meet for his family. Turns out, that strange birthmark on his shoulder - in the shape of a dragon - comes from an ancient family lineage, and he’ll be one of the champions of Earth (or, in Mortal Kombat terms, “Earthrealm”).
On the run from a ice-wielding baddie named Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) who is like a demented version of Frozone from “The Incredibles,” Cole ends up in a coveted Shaolin temple where he’s put through a montage of vigorous training exercises to prepare for the Mortal Kombat tournament, which is exactly as it sounds: a battle royale to the death. The training is meant to unlock an “arcana” or, in Mortal Kombat terms, a super power within oneself. Some can shoot lasers out their eyes while others are given mechanical arms.
But like all video-game based films, the campy visual effects and cringe worthy dialogue - here scribed by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham - do minimal damage control. Characters whoosh so fast in and out of portals, you might catch whiplash, and a cage match with a giant troll with four hands is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Same for Josh Lawson’s Kano, an Aussie crime lord who loves spouting slang terms and saying things like: “No Harry Potter shit” or “Get off me Magic Mike” because he obviously knows this is a Warner Brothers joint. In any case, this violent-mash up has inspired casting, but it only makes the case that Hollywood should read the room and either start coming up with more inspired material, or stop adapting video games for the sake of making a quick buck.
MORTAL KOMBAT opens in theaters and HBO Max Friday, April 23rd.