As I said last month following a preview of the film’s first 12 minutes, the new Mortal Kombat movie starts off strong. The opening battle between the men who would become Sub-Zero and Scorpion is one of my favorite cinema moments of the year. The remaining 98 minutes? Not so much. The fights are outstanding, the acting is okay, and the story is complete garbage.
First off, if you’re looking for a brutal spectacle, Mortal Kombat delivers. If you’re in this to see mostly familiar characters get hit so hard that your teeth rattle, you’re good. If you want to see modern fatalities, the gruesome gory ones, depicted in a somewhat passable facsimile of real life, that’s in there too.
Director Simon McQuoid did an excellent job making attractive people look like they are killing each other, and the attractive people are very good at being attractive. Many of them aren’t too shabby at acting either. Josh Lawson is a treat as cutthroat mercenary Kano, delivering some truly laugh-out-loud moments. Joe Taslim as Bi-Han / Sub-Zero and Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion are so good in the opening moments they had me fooled into thinking the movie might be much better than I hoped.
There’s a lot of good stuff in the first seven minutes of the movie.
Following that fateful fight the movie jumps to modern times, where things pretty quickly go wrong. We’re introduced to Cole, played by Lewis Tan, a down-on-his luck MMA fighter and family man who finds himself thrust into an ancient tournament between Earthrealm and Outworld because he carries a mystical dragon birthmark passed down by his ancestor, Scorpion. Cole is completely unaware of the meaning of the Mortal Kombat logo on his body until Jax, played by the delightful Mehcad Brooks (Jimmy Olsen from CW’s Supergirl), shows up to fill him in. Cole’s the type of guy who never thought to Google “dragon head in circle birthmark.” If he was, he would have known that this special mark only appears on warriors tasked with defending Earthrealm in regular Mortal Kombat tournaments.
That’s kind of stupid, right? It gets even more stupid. Apparently if someone with the mark is killed, the mark then transfers to their killer. That’s how the brutish and mostly-inept Kano winds up in the tournament, while a more capable character like Sonya Blade does not. Hmm.
Unfortunately for the entire Earthrealm crew—that is Cole, Kano, Liu Kang, Raiden, Jax, and Kung Lao—villainous Outworld boss Shang Tsung has come up with an evil plan. Instead of Outworld merely defeating Earthrealm in the Mortal Kombat tournament, as it’s done several times over the centuries, he decides to send out his minions to murder Earthrealm’s heroes beforehand.
That’s right. There is no tournament in this Mortal Kombat movie. Instead, Shang Tsung and pals Sub-Zero, Mileena, Nitara, Kabal, Reiko, and Goro attack Earth’s champions and their families directly. It took Shang Tsung hundreds of years to come up with this plan.
It’s kind of brilliant, really. Earthrealm’s forces are vulnerable. One fighter has his arms ripped off by Sub-Zero in the trailer. Two others are still in the middle of training, trying to awaken their latent super powers. By the way, that’s how Mortal Kombat fighters get their special attacks in this world: they awaken with use. Yes, even the mechanical ones. It’s so dumb.
Maybe dumb is what a Mortal Kombat movie needs to be. Perhaps the best possible outcome is a film with really cool fighting, a few giggles, and a painfully bad plot. It’s really good at all of those things. The idea of a regular tournament held to determine if one realm can invade the other is pretty ridiculous. Maybe Shang Tsung is on to something with his diabolical “just kill everybody” plan.
You can find out if this particular mix of good, bad, and stupid suits your own B-movie sensibilities tomorrow, when the new Mortal Kombat movie makes its theatrical and HBO Max debut.