Nearly three decades after its release, Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 ‘Mortal Kombat’ is still celebrated among viewers for being one of the best video game adaptations ever. So it’s safe to say that expectations for this new version are pretty high. And while first-time director Simon McQuoid does a great job of updating the film for the modern day, it fails just a tiny bit in reaching the lofty bar set by the original.
But the good news first. McQuoid’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ will no doubt satisfy fans looking for intense action sequences, gory violence and opulent sets. The cheesy dialogues, mirroring the original film, are also pretty much intact. The movie also benefits greatly from casting real-life martial artists in main roles, giving a breathtaking fervour and excitement to the fight scenes.
Case in point: The opening scene of ‘Mortal Kombat’. A fight between Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) set in ancient Japan is the stuff of any action lover’s dreams. The hand-to-hand combat and the use of weapons and even magic so skilfully choreographed and set against a beautiful landscape, it’s both electrifying and emotionally poignant, and does a great job of setting up the lore of the film.
Fast-forward to present day United States and we meet our new hero Cole Young (Lewis Tan, whom you’ve seen in ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘Into the Badlands’), a beat-up MMA fighter who’s seen better days, trying to do his best for his wife and daughter. We see him first taking part in an illegal cage fight, a bare-knuckled and gritty battle that shows off Tan’s ample skills as a fighter. But losing the fight is not the worst thing to happen to him that day, because he’s soon paid a visit by none other than Sub-Zero (Taslim).
Narrowly escaping, he meets Jax — aka Major Jackson Briggs — played here by Mehcad Brooks, who sets him on a path to meet with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and eventually, Raiden, an Elder God and protector of Earthrealm, played by Tadanobu Asano, who unfortunately has to fill in the big shoes left by the iconic Christopher Lambert in the original film.
The premise will sound familiar to anyone who’s played the games or watched the 1995 film. The Mortal Kombat tournament, where champions from the different realms fight to the last one standing, is soon approaching. The evil, soul-devouring Shang Tsung (Chin Han) of the Outworld wants to defeat Earth’s champions even before the tournament takes place, because of an ancient prophecy, which we won’t spoil here. Joining Young, Jax and Sonya Blade, along with a hilarious Kano (Josh Lawson) are also Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). The motley crew need to ensure they survive until the tournament, so that the Outworld doesn’t take over Earthrealm, thereby enslaving the planet and its inhabitants forever.
The training sequences bring some levity to the dire situation as are heroes warm up to each other. The humour in ‘Mortal Kombat’ is surprisingly well done this time around, except for a couple of misfires involving Kano.
But it’s in the second half of the film that ‘Mortal Kombat’ completely unravels. While McQuoid, like mentioned earlier, does a fine job of updating the file for modern sensibilities, he also makes an error by not trusting in the source material. Deepening the lore is all well and fine, but when there’s already so much tried-and-tested material to work with, why mess with it? The director also introduces a new explanation for our champions’ powers which falls completely flat in its execution.
The most disappointing parts of 2021 ‘Mortal Kombat’ come from its inability to tell a gripping and coherent story. Especially the introduction of the new champion, Lewis Cole, while again a noble risk to take, doesn’t entirely work for this movie. Tan, who was amazing as Zhou Cheng in ‘Iron Fist’, fails to turn his charisma upto 10 in ‘Mortal Kombat’, but brings his all in the fight sequences.
Stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner and fight choreographer Chan Griffin are of course the real heroes of the film. They do a great job of pushing the narrative of the film using the fight sequences — all visceral and gory, sure to delight hard-core video game fans. A mid-film scene involving Kung Lao and Nitara (Elissa Cadwell)will have those with weaker stomachs squirming in their seats, but is the kind of stuff you expect from a ‘Mortal Kombat’ film.
If you go to watch ‘Mortal Kombat’ in the cinemas this weekend, make it for the action sequences and you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t miss it!
‘Mortal Kombat’ is now showing in UAE cienmas.