Mortal Kombat (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - May 08, 2021
Mortal Kombat (2021)

For anyone who felt the PG-13 attempts in the 1990s to recreate the gruesome beat-’em-up Mortal Kombat for the big-screen were a bit lame – not to mention the similarly campy TV spin-offs – then this potty-mouthed 2021 version from the guy behind the Saw franchise, James Wan, should win you back over. Buckets of the red stuff get sloshed about liberally as the filmmakers relish in recreating some of the video game’s more grisly ‘fatalities’. Favourite characters are given wonderful reveals and demonstrate their signature moves in total service to the fans – and, it should be said, to the total detriment of any casual observers who maybe aren’t quite as heavily invested in this franchise. Once most of the limited plot is exposed, the last hour is pretty much a CGI-driven knives-out geek fest, where set-piece follows set-piece follows set-piece, complete with monsters, fireballs, lasers, deadly flying frisbee hats and ice swords. There are a few competing subplots, none of which are investigated too strenuously. The key through-line seems to focus on a new character, Cole Young (dishy Lewis Tan), created especially for the film. He’s a struggling MMA fighter who is called upon to represent ‘Earthrealm’ in a battle for supremacy against the evil ‘Outworld’ in a centuries-old tournament. Under the watchful eye of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), he is trained alongside other Earthrealm fighters until he can acquire his own special powers, fulfil the prophecy and kick loads of ass. A more interesting subplot involves the historic rivalry between a Chinese assassin (Joe Taslim) and a famed Japanese ninja (Hiroyuki Sanada, adding a touch of class to the chaos), which manifests through the ages via their corrupted superhuman selves; Sub-Zero and Scorpion respectively. Taslim just about steals the show, despite having half his face covered for most of the movie. He’s a phantom-like presence with a sinister death stare who keeps dropping into random scenes to administer a spot of icy pugilism. Thankfully, the film isn’t painfully earnest, with writers and super-fans Greg Russo and Dave Callaham remembering to balance out the macabre with levity; if the over-the-top violence isn’t outrageous enough, then the chucklesome dialogue doled out by obnoxious Aussie scumbag Kano (Josh Lawson) does enough to keep the craziness down to earth. It moves quickly, too, never quite dwelling long enough on the backstory for fear of the whole thing unraveling. So it’s not quite a flawless victory, but coupled with its long development journey and many false-starts along the way, its a victory nonetheless.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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