The Movie Guru: ‘Mortal Kombat’ offers solid, bloody video game-style action
No one watches a movie called “Mortal Kombat” looking for nuanced character development.
What they do want is good fight scenes and at least some respect for the popular video game franchise that inspired it. If that sounds like your kind of checklist, rest assured that the new “Mortal Kombat” has both of the above in spades. Now out in theaters and on HBO Max, the movie also has good CGI, decent dialog, and some genuinely unsettling bad guys.
For those not already familiar with “Mortal Kombat,” the franchise is based on a series of interdimensional fighting competitions that are the only thing keeping earth from being invaded by monster armies. A group of champions are gathered together to fight for earth, including a washed-up MMA fighter with an unexpected heritage, two elite soldiers on a quest for the truth and a monk with a complicated past. None of them are ready, but if they don’t find their inner abilities fast there won’t be a world left to save.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise, the movie’s vibe is that of a 1980s action movie with vague fantasy elements. The fight scenes are considerably more intense than you would have found in the time period — this and language is where the movie earns its R rating — but the general feel of the plot, sets and fight set-ups will definitely evoke memories for any Dolph Lundgren fans. The characters themselves are fairly trope-heavy, including the requisite innocents and those you can guess in advance will die early, but the actors are solid and there’s enough chemistry to carry the film.
Besides, most people will be here for the action scenes. There are thankfully several of them, interspersed throughout the movie often enough you won’t get bored waiting for the next one. They’re well-shot and well-choreographed, particularly the major fights, and the characters’ different powers are incorporated in a believable way. The final strikes get fairly dramatic and/or bloody, since they’re based on various fatalities (fancy finishing moves) from the games themselves.
Those aren’t the only things fans of the video games will appreciate. The movie carries over a pretty solid chunk of the game’s canon, with a hefty amount of foreshadowing and Easter eggs that those familiar with the video games will appreciate. They aren’t required to understand the movie, but having that knowledge does give some of the scenes an extra thrill.
The movie does add a brand-new character, a former MMA fighter who serves as something of an audience surrogate. Despite some early speculation, he doesn’t turn out to be (or end up replacing) a more familiar face. Screenwriter Greg Russo does do a good job of tying him in to the movie’s larger mythology, however, leading to one of the coolest fight scenes in the movie.
With a movie like “Mortal Kombat,” that ends up being a fairly high bar to clear.
Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude references
Screenplay by: Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, story by Oren Uziel and Greg Russo, based on the video game by Ed Boon and John Tobias
Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, and more
Grade: Three stars (out of four)
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.