It has been almost thirty years since Midway Games introduced Mortal Kombat to the world of video games, first as an arcade game, then as a personal home video game (currently on its 11th version), and eventually branching out to comic books, animated shows, and live-action feature films. The first feature film, premiering in 1995, is not only considered to be the best in the Mortal Kombat franchise but also as one of the best live-action film adaptations of a video game ever. Sadly, the 1997 sequel did not have the same amount of success so future films were scrapped; that is until Warner Bros. decided to "reinvent" the film. The new version will premiere this week in US theaters and on the HBOMax streaming service.
In 1600's Asia the Lin-Kuei clan attacks their rivals, the Shirai Ryu ninjas. Their leader Bi-Han (Joe Taslim; Fast & Furious 6) kills Hanzo Hasashi's (Hiroyuki Sanada; The Wolverine) wife and son before defeating Hanzo himself. However, Bi-Han is unaware that Hanzo's baby daughter is hidden away and is taken to safety by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano; Thor: Ragnarock). Four centuries later, Cole Young (Lewis Tan; Deadpool 2) is a down-and-out MME fighter just trying to earn a living.
After his latest fight, Cole is visited by Jax (Mehcad Brooks; True Blood) who follows Cole and his family and is there to rescue them when Bi-Han/SubZero arrives and tries to kill them. Jax tells Cole to find Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee; The Meg), who explains to Cole the ancient meaning behind his unusual birthmark. They then team with Kano (Josh Lawson; The Eleven O'Clock) to find Raiden's temple so they can train for the tournament. However, Raiden's Enemy, Shang Tsung (Chin Han; Skyscraper), and his team of supernatural villains vow to destroy "the chosen ones" before the tournament has begun.
The cast is made up of lesser-known actors who all had supporting roles in some blockbuster movies. Tan shows off his Martial Arts skills and manages to offer some emotions as the main character who discovers his ancestors while trying to keep his wife and daughter alive. McNamee is the bad-ass former special ops soldier with a brain to back it up. If Lawson's character was meant to be obnoxiously annoying, then he nailed the persona on the head. Sanada and Taslim embrace just enough anger to make their fight scenes believable.
Mortal Kombat's cinematography is excellent, showcasing some stunning visuals. The fight choreography is as well done as that seen in the John Wick series and most of the computer-generated graphics are pretty good. However, there are moments here and there that it becomes obvious some stunts and graphics are not real. The most unfortunate part of the movie is the story. The video game (at least the original) is centered on the "chosen ones" fighting in the tournament to save the Earthrealm. This version of the film barely touches upon the impending tournament and deals more with trying to create the team's backstory. Of course, this leaves the ending open to a sequel (please lord, no!).
Fans of the video game will find much to love about Mortal Kombat including the various fight sequences showcasing copious amounts of blood and gore. For the average filmgoer though, there is enough to dislike about the movie. It is too long, slow at some points, and leaves the viewer with a sense of abandonment and emptiness by the end. While I appreciate the backstory, writers Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman 1984) and Director Simon McQuoid (making his feature film directorial debut) didn't need to drag it out as long as they did but if they didn't they wouldn't have had a long enough movie for a feature film nor a built-in segway to a sequel.