The new Mortal Kombat reboot movie has been a long time coming, and while some of the stitching from over the years that holds the whole thing together is very much apparent in its construction, it’s still a very bloody and mostly good experience. If you go into the movie expecting deadly fights between well-trained fighters, that’s more or less what you get. If you’re looking for anything significantly deeper than that, perhaps look elsewhere.
If you haven’t been following along with the promotional blitz, the movie centers on MMA fighter and new character for the franchise Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who is totally unaware of his heritage and connection to the Mortal Kombat tournament and maybe not even currently up to the task. The how and why Young gets entangled with all of this has been something of a mystery leading up to release, but the movie isn’t precious about holding back and largely explains what’s up within 15 minutes. I won’t spoil it here, but you can probably already guess how Young fits into the movie’s plot puzzle.
As promised, the movie spends much of its run time showcasing gnarly fights between characters like Kung Lao, Kano, Sonya Blade, Jax, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Nitara, Kabal, Shang Tsung, Liu Kang, Reiko, Mileena, Raiden, Reptile, Goro, and Young. If that sounds like a lot of characters to fit into the movie, that’s because it very much is. And despite the fact that it’s nice to see so many familiar faces, the film suffers for it slightly.
Because of the depth of the roster, which is itself a heavy paring down from the video game franchise, there is unfortunately not too much time spent with any single character. Young, and by extension his family, really is the focal point around which every other character revolves. The movie seems uninterested in exploring much of their various backgrounds or the whys or the hows and instead opts to spend that time either introducing new characters or having them throw punches at each other.
And, to be clear, this is a Mortal Kombat movie. The fact that it spends so much time setting up and then paying off fights isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own -- arguably, the whole point of a film adaptation of a fighting video game franchise is, well, fighting. And it does that part well. Seeing Jax take on Reiko, metal arms versus huge maul, is just as delightful as it sounds, but also, I cannot honestly tell you whether Reiko has a single line of dialogue in the film that isn’t a guttural grunt or yell.
If the goal was authenticity, as so much of the cast and crew said prior to release, it certainly is authentic to the blood and guts of the video games. The fights are fun, fast-paced, and it’s clear when the martial artists have the floor that they know what they’re doing. The characters largely feel like they should, despite the lack of individual screen time to flesh them out, and it’s hard not to both cheer and wince with body parts getting severed or exploded or severed and then exploded every couple of minutes.
If you’re looking to watch some excellent supernatural fights, there are far worse ways to spend your time, but if you’re looking for nuance and meaningful character development and exploration, well, what are you doing watching Mortal Kombat?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Mortal Kombat reboot film is set to release tomorrow, April 23rd, on both HBO Max and in theaters. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the film right here.