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Mortal Kombat ★★★



Director : Simon McQuoid

Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han,  Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada

Released : 23rd April 2021 (HBO Max & US Cinemas)

Mortal Kombat is one of those long-standing videogame franchises that just keeps on reinventing itself: from the triumphant return to form in the combo-heavy 2011 reboot of the same name to the recent Esports success of Mortal Kombat 11, Ed Boon’s realm-shifting creation has seemingly enjoyed a cultural resurgence over the past decade. Even on the cinematic front, just last year, the franchise delivered the excellent animated feature, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, which decidedly signified Warner Bros’ newfound appreciation for their most notorious martial arts asset. Unsurprisingly, this comeback served as the final push for the new live-action adaptation of 90s parents’ worst nightmare: after spending over two decades in development hell, Mortal Kombat is finally back on the silver screen in all its blood-gushing glory.

Sparing no time to explain the clan wars of the universe, Mortal Kombat jumps straight into the eternal rivalry between Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), better known as Scorpion and the original Sub-Zero, respectively. This is where the audience gets the first taste of the new film’s gory spectacle: dismayed by the deaths of his wife and child, Hanzo goes on a hyperviolent frenzy against the remaining Lin Kuei assassins, slashing his way through their bodies and leaving an otherwise peaceful Japanese village extensively covered in crimson red. It’s a compelling, visually stunning opening sequence, yet one that might feel a bit perplexing to those unfamiliar with the grandiose lore of the source material. Flash forward to 4 centuries later, and now the film introduces the real protagonist of this story: Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a cage fighter and a devoted family man, gets recruited by Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) to protect Earthrealm in the greatest fighting tournament between all realms – Mortal Kombat.

Much akin to its videogame counterpart, Mortal Kombat spends the majority of its runtime figuring out the two fundamental aspects: the character roster and the ways these kombatants could potentially hurt each other in the most gruesome fashion. On that front, Simon McQuoid’s film is a resounding success, delivering just the right amount of on-screen bloodletting and quippy one-liners without overstepping into overt B-movie territory. Limbs fly, heads get crushed, and Reptile remains a massive jobber – all very accurate to the games this is based on. Some fans will be overjoyed to catch the countless easter eggs and references (even Shinnok’s Amulet gets a brief appearance), while others may find the fan pandering a bit too much to handle. All of that, however, comes at the cost of plotting and narrative momentum, keeping the film from ever reaching the heightened sense of unadulterated joy found in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 rendition of the franchise. Crucially, the new film omits the presence of the very Mortal Kombat tournament the series is so focused on, ending up feeling like merely the first chapter of a grand story.

Nonetheless, the true stars of the show in Mortal Kombat are the performers: the ensemble cast brings the unhinged physicality and charisma of their videogame counterparts to life, embracing levity and might as their second nature. It certainly helps that some of the actors involved come from the martial arts background, boasting fantastic stunt work and fight choreography in a sight rarely found in American martial arts productions.

Bone-crunchingly violent and admirably faithful to the source material, the new take on Mortal Kombat is yet another successful addition to the canon of modern videogame cinema. Perhaps, a longer runtime and a clearer focus could’ve helped polish the rugged edges of franchise-building, as the ending implies a much more ambitious sequel could be on the cards. Regardless, what we have now is much closer to a brutality rather than a flawless victory – a simple uppercut with a geyser of blood – and that’s already better than failing a fatality input.

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