Movie Review: “Mortal Kombat,” One More Time

Epic in scale, graphic in violence, the latest attempt to turn the video game “Mortal Kombat” into a movie has the air of “This time we mean business” about it.

The effects are state-of-the-art, and a blood-spurting, kid-killing prologue punches out its new “R” rating, right out of the gate.

The cast? Well…Hiroyuki Sanada‘s a familiar face, a mainstay of Japanese cinema, Western WWII fare, “Westworld” and some Marvel movies. Other players you will recognize from “Mongol,” as martial arts movie stars, career third-bananas or as bit players in “Deadpool” pictures. Not a household name in the lot.

And the movie? Alas, the same puerile piffle as every other movie incarnation of the game, a “tournament” between the greatest supernatural fighters in the universe with Earth’s “masters” wearing the “chosen” dragon birthmark, but overmatched until they learn to fight together.

What’s the definition of madness? “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result?” There you go.

Lewis Tan (“Into the Badlands”) is Cole Young, a washed-up MMA fighter with that same dragon mark on him that we saw on an ancestor (Sanada) in the prologue. He’s got a family he can barely support as he can’t seem to collect a “w” no matter who he fights.

But he’s being hunted by the minions of Bi-Han, aka “Subzero” (Joe Taslim of TV’s “Warrior”), the Mr. Freeze fighter from that prologue. And Cole’s been located by Special Forces brawler
Jax (Mehcad Brooks of TV’s “Supergirl” and “True Blood”) who wants him on “our side.”

Next thing you know, they’re off to fetch Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee of “Battle of the Sexes” and “The Meg”), who is mixed up with Kano (Aussie unknown Josh Lawson), the brawny, wise-cracking F-bomb dropping “mercenary scum of the Earth” who provides comic relief in such action pictures.

With the help of the “Thunder God,” Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano of “Midway”), will they be able to hold off the “Outworld” murderers of Shang Tsung (Chin Han of “Skyscraper” and TV’s “Marco Polo”)? He’s a villain who’s really hung up on having won “nine straight tournaments,” always showing up and intoning “Their souls are MINE” and “It is time to END this,” which frankly, I’m totally on board with.

Because aside from the comic-book movie supernatural brawls — with lots more blood and profanity — there’s nothing at all to this.

There’s no pathos. You may pull for a character, but you never “feel” for them. Only in that prologue is there a sense of real loss at a death.

The only humor is in Lawson’s wisecracking blowhard, pretty funny even if he is just playing a “type.”

Here’s what works. That fight-to-the-death prologue, set in 17th century Japan, has period detail and high stakes and good fight choreography. The ice effects that Sub-Zero, who announces his name change with all the emotion of a pop-up onscreen graphic mid-video game, are impressive.

This fighter’s “Frisbee Hat” weapon or that one’s hurled Great Balls of Fire are striking the first time we see them, and only the first time.

But the acting here is limited to hitting your marks, getting the choreography right and mastering whatever wirework is folded into the digital effects that let one and all defy the laws of physics.

The sets impress, in the soundstage with a green screen way. Yes, it looks good and there’s money on the screen.

But I’m never sure, watching yet another attempt at “Mortal Kombat” (“They didn’t even SPELL it right” is the funniest one-liner), what it is about this particular game that makes Hollywood so determined to wrench a franchise from it.

Is it simply its worldwide popularity? Does the simplicity of the “story” make it appear easier to adapt than it ever is? Or are they simply going to keep remaking it until they finally recoup the money New Line paid for its rights, eons ago?

Don’t know, don’t care. All we have to go by is another shiny bauble with faint flashes of martial arts, which is all that makes it to the screen. Nothing more.

MPA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude references 

Cast: Lewis Tan, Chin Han, Jessica McNamee, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Josh Lawson and Tadanobu Asano

Credits: Directed by Simon McQuoid, script by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, based on the video game. A Warner Brothers/New Line release.

Running time: 1:50

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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