With apologies to cocaine, nostalgia is a helluva drug. A button-mashing video game known for poorly pixelated blood and a distorted voice that yells F words—“fatality” and “finish him,” get your mind out of the gutter—has somehow stayed culturally relevant for almost three full decades. Do some people not know about other escapist forms of violence? Because there are a lot of them…
The “dense mythology” of the “world of Mortal Kombat” consists of some fighters that look cool and other fighters who really love hats. The only thing that has stayed narratively consistent across the various gaming incarnations and cringy cinema franchise is that there is a fighting tournament that determines the fate of the world. That is until now, as the dull modern reboot never actually gets around to said tournament. Don’t worry! All the catchphrases are still there, everything is okay. Well, not “okay” so much as “legally this is considered a film.”
Again, as a reminder, the only thing that this “intellectual” property has going for it as a concept is its inexplicably beloved characters. So of course, the new Mortal Kombat focuses on an entirely new and thus completely unbeloved character. Don’t worry! While some fighters get to do cool things like shoot lasers from their eyes or create murder icicles, when appropriately enraged, our hero…grows a hard-shelled long-sleeved shirt and gets sticks on his hands? He’s not given a cool codename, but he should probably be called something like “Under Armor.”
Under Armor (Lewis Tan) is the long-lost descendent of Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). Scorpion is arguably the coolest Mortal Kombatian (Mortal Kombateer?), so of course the movie basically sidelines him the entire time. Don’t worry! The movie gives a ton of screen time to Kano (Josh Lawson), whose personality is basically “what if date rape was Australian?” Kano’s comedic one-liners are so oafish and uninspired in their lame vulgarity that Spotify just offered him a flagship podcast.
The movie basically consists of a dozen plus characters meeting each other, discussing how there’s going to be a super important tournament, training for that tournament, and then never actually getting to the tournament. Along the way they attempt a half-hearted explanation for the weird superpowers that the Kombatants develop that only serves to make things more confusing. But who cares, right? The important thing is whether or not the martial arts mayhem and kooky kombat is fun. Don’t worry! It’s not.
Mortal Kombat is a joyless, unnecessarily self-serious slog that is too stupid and basic for actual grownups with adult brains and too violent and gross for young people with developing brains. If you want to see brutal, grotesque martial arts, watch The Night Comes for Us on Netflix. If you are nostalgic, YouTube the techno theme song and download one of the 87 versions of the video game. If you want to see a guy cut a dragon woman in half with a hat in live-action, proceed.
Grade = D
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture says “I can take Mortal Kombat’s slapdash script. I admire the work by some of the actors, who approach their roles with grim determination (while others wholly lack the requisite charisma). What I can’t take is that it lacks one crucial thing: visually intriguing and understandable fight scenes.”
Nguyen Le at In Session Film says “Time to start #RestoreMortalKombat or #GetOverHereMKAssemblyCut if it can get the rest of the film to reach the same heights of the thrilling opener that falsely promises a Big Beatdown underlined by contrasts, retributions, and heritages.”
Siddhant Adlakha of First Post says “I’m sorry, Warner Bros, but the best part of your movie is a white guy who gets his superpowers from calling a Chinese man ‘Kung Pao,’ which isn’t going to do much to #StopAsianHate. It’s not that kind of movie, and it’s pretty cynical to pretend like it is.”