Review: Mortal Kombat

The benefit of reviewing a game-based movie without being a gamer is that there are no impossible expectations that need to be met; but, then again, not being a gamer usually means expectations are low to begin with when addressing game-based movies. What I know about Mortal Kombat is that it’s infamously violent and stalled during its lucrative cinema adaptation franchise back in the 90s (it essentially launched Paul W.S Andersen’s career, for what that’s worth). This is by every definition a reboot, so philistines like me get to see it all from the beginning.

And the beginning, at least, holds up. Set in 17th century Japan, the movie starts with a warrior named Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), living the pastoral life with his family when he’s attacked by a bunch of Chinese-speaking assassins led by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), who freezes Hanzo’s wife and child to death before dispatching Hanzo himself, though, as fans of the game probably know, it doesn’t mean he’s actually “dead,” since death is a relative concept in this cosmos. But the battle of Hanzo is merely a preface—and a rippingly good one, filled with some clever, though grisly, swordplay and kung fu-type shit—and the movie then picks up where the game takes off, meaning the eternal war between Outworld and Earthrealm, the latter of which centers on an MMA fighter named Cole (Lewis Tan), whom Bi-Han seems to be gunning for since there’s some kind of blood connection between him and Hanzo that I could never figure out. After some fierce one-on-ones the movie bogs down into character exposition as Cole meets up with familiar faces from the MK universe and each has to “learn” their “special power,” an idea whose randomness always makes superhero movies that much more difficult to take seriously, even as fantasy, though this world seems to be dictated by prosaic American military cliches. And, of course, with every new character we have to muddle through a backstory that probably wasn’t necessary in the game. 

Director Simon McQuoid obviously was hired for his action chops, but he seems to have no patience for story development or continuity. Even when the action gets back to full-time fighting the movie had lost me. Obviously, the point here is to gather in a new audience for a new franchise, but I can’t help but feel that a real gamer is going to be even more frustrated by the lackluster storytelling. There’s only so much spine-tearing and head-smashing you can tolerate vicariously without a plot when you’re sitting in a movie theater with nothing to do with your hands except fumble with popcorn. Gamers rather be gaming. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Mortal Kombat home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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