Review: Well, Mortal Kombat is indeed brutal

“Finish him” voice: CINEMA!

Every so often, some geeky fan film faux trailer goes viral and everyone is like, “OMG, this is what the actual movie of this thing should be!!!” The latest Mortal Kombat is the open-and-shut case that it is absolutely fucking not what any movie should be.

Yet Simon McQuoid’s adaptation (and feature directorial debut) is exactly that—a handful of fan-favorite lines and moments awash in a sea of amateurish, monotonous trash. It’s “Say the line, Bart” with some professional cosplayers, and somehow it takes nearly two hours to get the half-dozen “get over here” and “flawless victory” bits that will have man-children cheering in their HBO Max-cave.

As remarkably poor as Mortal Kombat is, that there’s still an audience for it in 2021 is just as remarkable. When the first game was released in 1992, it was simply the Monster Energy to Street Fighter II’s Mountain Dew. It exploded, Fatality style, because you could make a dude explode. Even as the franchise continued, a third of the characters were just convenient palette swaps of other characters; one guy was just a Nosferatu mask with some Lee Press-On Nails for teeth; you could finish a round by transforming your rival into an infant. This wasn’t high art, and characters like Scorpion (the ninja who would take off his hood to reveal a skull that breathed fire) and Sub-Zero (the ninja who looked exactly the same as Scorpion and several other ninjas but blue) were literally not three-dimensional in any way.

We’re now eleven games into the Mortal Kombat franchise, and you’d think that having Spawn, John Rambo, the Terminator, and RoboCop as playable characters in the latest one would wise people up the idea that this series is just a violent, dorky fever dream.

Not the case!

Leading up to the release of this year’s Mortal Kombat—and going back to the self-serious Mortal Kombat webseries and beyond—there’s been a vocal contingent of fans intent on the franchise be treated with RESPECT. The game in which you can freeze Rambo and punch him into a million pieces, or turn a four-armed, nearly nude ogre into a baby, must be given the gravitas it’s earned over a viscera-strewn 30 years.

The good news for them is that McQuoid has more or less done that. The bad news is that it is far less entertaining than even just watching someone play Mortal Kombat.

Like innumerable fantastical adaptations before, the film needlessly goes the route of “outsider new character absolutely no one cares about as the audience surrogate.” There’s this amateur MMA guy who ostensibly has a name, and his chest bears a Mortal Kombat logo that he says he’s had since birth, which is a pretty good out if anyone got that as a tattoo. For reasons thankfully not explored, Jax (the Mortal Kombat guy with the metal arms, the origins of which you see here as his metal arms hilariously, physically grow muscular) meets up with the dude and sets him on his path to becoming whoever it is he ends up being. You can presumably download him in the next MK11 update. He (eventually) looks like he’s wearing Bram Stoker’s Dracula armor made of graphite.

Anyway, the nonsensical plot sees Earth on the not-so-specific verge of its latest clandestine fighting tournament, during which the “Earthrealm” and “Outworld” will fight for dominance. Should the Outworld win one more tournament, they will invade. Should the Earthrealm win, it’s like… they just leave it, maybe?

Notably, this tournament never happens. Despite being touted as the entire setup in the opening crawl, for some reason Outworld head-of-state Shang Tsung is immediately like, “How about if we completely ignore that and actually just do some casual invasions for the entire movie?” It’s no more inexplicable than anything else in this trash, and he lives in a terrible greenscreen world that looks like the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so we’ll give him this one.

All this leads whoever the main character is to Sonya Blade and Kano. (I am not going to keep explaining these stupid video game characters. If you know, you know. If not, it honestly doesn’t matter.) She lives in a junkyard or something, and he’s been chained to a chair for god knows how long. It seems like she’s clearly the sociopathic villain here, but we’re not supposed to think that apparently. He’s crass and Australian and the terrible comic relief but still the only character with enough personality to even recognize as a human. They briefly fight a nude chameleon-man hybrid and we’re supposed to be like, “Cool, that’s Reptile, I guess? He was in the games.” 

So, Sonya has this whole clichéd “wall of clues” thing going for the tournament and the Mortal Kombat birthmark situation, and out of nowhere, she’s like, “Well, since now the movie is in progress, we should abruptly visit this related spot in the middle of the desert.” Again, kind of glad they don’t get into it, but just because you don’t see them make the sausage doesn’t mean you’re gonna buy it.

The trio PARACHUTE into this desert and somehow quickly run into Liu Kang, who has this whole remote temple going with Raiden and the hat-blade guy. They reiterate the plot being about this tournament that, again, will never happen. Just turn off the movie if you are looking for the tournament that it is expressly about, because that does not happen. The movie instead culminates in Sub-Zero fighting a 60-year-old man, and it’s no more a climax than any other of the other rare, completely tedious fights in this movie about a fighting tournament that ends up canceled.

If anything good can be said about this movie that looks like shit, sounds like shit, is acted like shit, is written for shit, and contains no value, it’s that at least it was fortuitously scheduled to just squeeze its way into the pandemic’s straight-to-streaming window. This movie is not a proper theatrical release; it is a video game movie by way of a SyFy original, and just as bad as that marriage implies. Despite any complexity of combos, never has Mortal Kombat made finishing harder.

Grade: D-

Mortal Kombat
Director: Simon McQuoid
Studio: Warner Bros.
Runtime: 110 minutes
Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada

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