Like many wayward youth, I loved the video game “Mortal Kombat.” I poured endless quarters into the violent arcade game, practicing combos and learning the ways to finish opponents with the ridiculous “Fatalities” each character utilized.
When I learned a movie was coming out in 1995, I was naturally excited. There was no reason to be. It stunk to high hell, with Christopher Lambert hamming up the screen as Lord Raiden and Linden Ashby’s cornball delivery of lines like “This is where you fall down.”
When I learned Warner planned to revive Mortal Kombat and would do so with an R rating, I was cautiously optimistic. The red band trailer got my attention. When I found out I could watch it at home with a free HBO Max trial, I said “done” and prepared myself for some silly shit.
And that’s what the 2021 Mortal Kombat is: silly shit. If you watch it with an understanding this isn’t Oscar level material, it’s a fun time.
The film starts with the murder of Hanzo Hasashi, master ninja to the Shira Ryu clan, as well as those of his wife and child at the hands of Bi-Han, a rival from the Lin Kuei who wants Hasashi gone so Earth’s mightiest champion’s bloodline vanishes from participation in the Tournament.
The Tournament is a contest of champions who fight to the death for control of a realm. According to the opening graphic, the murderous Outworlders won the last nine straight. A tenth victory means Earth falls under Outworld’s control.
Next we’re treated to the film’s protagonist, Cole Young (Lewis Tan)*, losing a cage match. As he nurses his wounds, Bi-Han, now calling himself Sub Zero, attempts to use his magic ice control powers to freeze Young to death.
Cole and his family are bailed out by Jax, who has the same dragon shaped birthmark as our hero. Jax tells Cole to escape with his family and find Sonia Blade in Indiana. For his heroic efforts, Jax gets his arms ripped off, stumps frozen solid.
Once the Young family makes it to Sonia Blade’s hideout we learn the dragon birthmark means one is destined to become a champion for Earth in the tournament. Blade, Young, and an Australian mercenary named Kano travel to the fortress of Raiden the Thunder God, who tells the heroes they must train to find their inner powers or they’ll be liabilities in the Tournament.
Shang Tsung, the film’s big bad, has another idea. If he and the Outworlders can kill Earth’s champions before the Tournament then Earth will fall. So the heroes have to come up with an unusual strategy and work together to save the planet.
And there’s the matter of Hanzo Hasashi wandering through hell waiting for revenge.
So that’s the film in a nutshell. The acting is campy. The sole actor with personality is Josh Lawson, who actually makes Kano likeable. The fight scenes are your typical Hong Kong action fare. A major stylistic difference is the violence, which is predictably turned up to eleven for this film. One scene was so violent a brief glimpse scared my son, who dashed into the TV room for a brief second.
All the CGI enhancements are slick. It’s a very visually pretty film. Expect to hear “Flawless Victory,” “Fatality,” and “Your Soul is Mine!” Like I said, it’s campy shit. As long as you know this before watching, and lower your expectations, Mortal Kombat is a fun, mindless action flick.
The film runs just under two hours, which is nice in a world of films with runtimes as long as football games. It’s rated R for language and extreme violence. You can catch it in theaters or on HBO Max for the next thirty days.
Because I went in expecting dumb fun, I’ll give this three out of five Fatalities. It’s no Flawless Victory by a long shot, but it’ll do for a distraction.
*I’m only giving the lead’s name like this because outside of Josh Lawson I don’t think many of the actors want to be accused of participating in this.