“Do not forget this face.”
Mortal Kombat is one of those properties that producers have adequately struggled to migrate to the big screen. Many had hoped that Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat would do the franchise justice - a rightful reboot, so to speak, bearing a ruthless R rating. Though adequate, the film fails to piece together the puzzle, focusing too heavily on the visual aesthetic, leaving the core components to muddy the already ice-laden waters.
Opening in 1617, McQuoid wastes no time getting violent as we witness a near massacre that ultimately pits Hanzo Hasashi against his nemesis Bi-Han. The duel is quickly resolved, sending the former to the ground in a cloud of ash. This sets in motion a course of events that establish the foundation for this film, which, from that point forward, occurs in present day.
With a storyline taken primarily from the recently revived video game, Mortal Kombat principally focuses on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an aging MMA fighter who has made a habit of taking an absolute beating for money. Unaware of his heritage, or the reason he is being hunted by an otherworldly warrior (Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero), Cole seeks out Sonya Blade, a Special Forces military soldier. She might hold the answers to the odd dragon marking on his chest.
Struggling to introduce and advance his characters with pace, McQuoid relies heavily on special effects and fight sequences to keep the audience engaged. For the most part, the tactic works as we bear witness to an impressive progression that includes an unexpected July snowfall and an intense, perilous ice storm. There is no holding back when it comes to the action, and for a good reason. The actors themselves are painfully underwhelming, as is the dialogue from writers Greg Russo and Dave Callaham. The fast-paced distraction is both welcome and effective.
But the visual odyssey cannot last forever. As simple as it is, the story does take center stage as Cole arrives at the hidden temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God who servers as the unique and somewhat hypocritical protector of the Earthrealm. Lord Raiden offers sanctuary to those who bear the distinctive dragon marking, giving them a place to train and prepare for the upcoming tournament.
It is here that we learn about the past fights, nine straight victories for the Outworld. To control the outcome, Sub-Zero is removing the competition early, working to ensure a win, and with it, control over Earth and its inhabitants. Conveniently, the future of humanity rests with Cole.
Oh, and we cannot forget, Cole’s wife and daughter are back at home, somewhat aware of what is going on and easily accessible for potential third act collateral. No, I’m not kidding.
Though tolerable, the painfully simple and insignificant storylines don’t align with an R-rated audience. The blood somewhat makes up for the oversight; however, by the time the showdown arrives, we’ve little symphony or compassion towards Earth’s primary group of fighters. I could argue that we know next to nothing about any of them.
In this capacity, Mortal Kombat struggles mightily. Instead of dialing in on the story, allowing the fighting to support the primary character arcs, the film operates in reverse. The fights drive the narrative, the characters merely a vessel. The approach is inexcusable and would read much worse if audiences hadn’t been banned from theaters over the past year, currently craving any story on the big screen.
I don’t blame McQuoid entirely for the misstep; in all fairness, the actors didn’t give him much. But the director must shoulder most of the blame. Though the film does include a visually entertaining third act that stretched far outside even this film’s basis of reality, it doesn’t make up for the torturous buildup. Nor does it excuse that, once again, the film adaptation doesn’t live up to its source material.
*This film is available in theaters and on HBO Max.