Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms Review: A Bigger, Faster Tournament
Just over a year after being treated to Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge, we've already got a new chapter in the animated storyline through Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms. This movie is bigger, arguably bloodier, and just as busy as the first one. It sometimes struggles with issues afflicting the former, too, such as the sheer vastness of the Mortal Kombat universe itself, but it smartly broadens its horizons to (mostly) look beyond any one character while having just enough fan service to avoid being overbearing.
Battle of the Realms, as Mortal Kombat fans would hope, wastes no time getting to the action. Like a new Batman or Spider-Man reboot, we're immediately treated to a Liu Kang origin story that doesn't even run its course before eyeballs start popping out of heads and bodies burst to bits. It's backstories and brutalities from the start, a promising opening for all viewers, regardless of their familiarity with Mortal Kombat's expansive roster.
Liu Kang's prominence in the film tracks with past Mortal Kombat projects, and, on the surface, it's almost bothersome to go from spotlighting Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Johnny Cage in the first film right into Liu Kang. Battle of the Realms avoids focusing on any one character too closely, however, to instead offer a wide-lens look at its Earthrealm and Outworld characters.
This creates a landscape that feels much larger than Scorpion's Revenge, but it comes at the cost of pacing. It handles things like the Kuai Liang/Bi-Han/Sub-Zero relationship concisely and clearly, but that's largely because it's explained so early on in the movie. Depending on how familiar you are with Mortal Kombat, talks of the One Being and other character origins come quick enough that you're seldom left with time to process information before moving onto the next introduction. Juggling multiple perspectives that occasionally intersect, similar to what we saw in Scorpion's Revenge, does help things from getting too cluttered.
But just as an Outworld fighter doesn't need to know the name of their Earthrealm opponent to fight them, you don't need to know the backstory of every character to enjoy their battles. A tournament hosted in Outworld is just as visceral as it sounds, and the fights and Fatalities don't disappoint. Battle of the Realms doubles down on things like x-rayed blows and key catchphrases that honor the source material and give characters their big moments without being too distracting. Actor Fred Tatasciore also puts on a stupendous performance as Shao Kahn and brings the ferocity Outworld needed to be regarded as such a fearsome region.
The final act of the film moves further away from Mortal Kombat and feels more like an anime-style finale, but not so much so that you lose sight of it being a Mortal Kombat film first and foremost. Instances of plot armor protecting some characters and not others is pretty noticeable at times, but the movie's quick pacing again offsets that by not leaving us too much time to question things.
Battle of the Realms feels much different overall from Scorpion's Revenge, so it's difficult to say which is better than the other. One is much more of an introduction to Mortal Kombat overall while the other assumes viewers are coming into this with knowledge that allows for greater liberties to be taken with its stories. Both have their merits, but if you're just here for the fights, Battle of the Realms is the way to go.
It makes even less sense to compare this or Scorpion's Revenge to the live-action film that was released this year, but there's just something special about what's done with these characters in this animated medium. It's able to capture the uniqueness of the Mortal Kombat roster through fighters' expressions, moves, and the sheer brutality of it all, and though the Mortal Kombat Legends series hasn't quite perfected the act of wrangling everything into one compact movie, it's a story worth investing in until that happens.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms releases on Digital, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack on August 31st.