‘Mortal Kombat’ review: gory video game romp fails at the first level

A total lack of story makes this martial arts reboot pretty pointless

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    There are few sub-genres of film that are as consistently rubbish as the video game adaptation. The first Mortal Kombat movie came along in 1995 (after the abysmal Super Mario Bros. and the atrocious Street Fighter kicked off the trend) and nearly 30 years have passed since that b-movie became the best by virtue of not being the worst, and for some reason we’re being subjected to it all over again.

    This latest incarnation starts off interestingly enough. In 17th century Japan, a bunch of assassins – led by Bi-Han aka Sub Zero (Joe Taslim) – attack and kill a rival clan, leaving Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family for dead. Fast forward to present day and it seems Hasashi has an ancestor by the name of Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a UFC-style fighter who isn’t very good at what he does. Within a scene or two, Cole is told he has to fight in a tournament to save all humans (for a film that doesn’t have much story, there’s an awful lot of plot to explain). Quite how or why a couple of rounds of MMA is required to dominate the 10 realms isn’t explained.

    Mortal Kombat
    Lewis Tan plays Cole Young, a rather unskilled UFC-style fighter. CREDIT: Warner Bros.

    Still, we’re not here for a world built on solid foundations. The target audience is supposed to care about a handful of things, and plot is not one of them. Gruesome deaths, recognisable characters and many references to a game with only half a dozen lines of dialogue are what matters. Turning that set-up into a three act narrative arc has challenged scriptwriters for three decades. Ironically, the ’90s version of Mortal Kombat worked because it embraced the simplicity of that idea. This remake takes that idea and runs with it, but throws in a bit extra exposition in the hopes of making something more epic.

    It doesn’t work at all, because the writers haven’t spent any time developing that backstory. Instead, they’ve packed in too many characters, completely forgotten that the film was supposed to be about a tournament and given way too many lines to Kano (Josh Lawson), a character designed to irritate his colleagues – and who will annoy viewers even more. What’s really odd about it all is that Mortal Kombat is actually pretty well shot. Sure, the character design is a slave to a game that first appeared in the last century, but the look of the film, the fight choreography and special effects are as good as one could expect from an initial sub-$100m budget. So it’s a real shame that the script doesn’t match director Simon McQuiod’s inventiveness. For a commercials director to be producing such a visually attractive debut movie is quite something. It makes this far more entertaining than it would be.

    Mortal Kombat
    ‘Mortal Kombat’ is beautifully shot, if a little lacklustre. CREDIT: Warner Bros

    In keeping with the original game, the gore comes thick and fast. It leads to an uneven tone, but the fans are supposed to cheer at the multiple limb-dismemberments and snicker at the dropping of f-bombs; not worry about why the one-liners are so camp. At times, Mortal Kombat is almost as ridiculous as the early-’90s adaptations that did their best to kill the genre. But it doesn’t matter how many times these movies get killed, studios will happily drop a ton of tokens for another round.

    Details

    • Director: Simon McQuoid
    • Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson
    • Release date: April 23 (US, UK TBC)
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