One of the key aims in making a popular video game into a movie is to translate the excitement that comes from operating controls and controlling characters into a staged visual feast. Without the opportunity to manipulate the actions and abilities of their favorite players, audiences must sit back and watch as their stories play out on screen. The more well-known and respected a game is, the more likely fans are to expect callouts and other signature moments show up and feel satisfying. There is plenty to anticipate with Mortal Kombat, a reboot that kick-starts action and energy into its high-octane content.
The narrative begins when Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is killed, the last in his line, by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), though he is unaware that Hanzo’s baby son has survived, and Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) spirits him away to another time, centuries later in the present day. Trained as a fighter, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is pulled into the eons-long conflict between Outworld and Earthrealm, where the last chance for Earthrealm lies in Cole and others who have been imprinted with a mark that foretells their destiny as its final defense against annihilation.
To its credit, this film is more than merely a video game reformatted as a view-only experience. There is a coherent and recognizable narrative, one that freely bends the limits of possibility and reason as it must but keeps to its mythology and all that it allows. Cole is the primary hero but he’s not the only one, and he’s surrounded by a strong, capable cast equally well-suited for fighting and delivering dialogue. Jessica McNamee, who portrays Special Forces operative Sonya Blade, impressively steps into the action star mentality and delivers well, while Josh Lawson, previously best known for his comedic turn in House of Lies, steals all of his scenes as the arrogant, angry criminal Kano enlisted by Sonya to fight for the good guys.
To say that this film features a lot of blood is an understatement. From its first hand-to-hand combat scene, there is much gore, and the way in which anonymous characters meet their ends is flashy and stylized. The showiness does venture into grotesque territory with certain killings that feel unnecessarily vicious and brutal, but Outworld and its soldiers are portrayed as evil and willing to do anything to quash their opponents. Its R-rating comes with coarse language that only serves to make all of its characters on both sides of this epic battle seem even more eager to lunge at each other and fight to the death.
The action is front and center in this blockbuster, which serves as the first live-action feature film adaptation of the video game franchise in over two decades. While there are moments based purely on plot, they are fleeting and lead into the next big combat showcase. The movements are quick and the pacing is involving, ensuring that those who came to see their legendary fighters do what they do best will likely not be disappointed. For those few unfamiliar with the franchise, token references may be missed but the general effect still resonates. There’s more intelligence and substance here than necessary given the type of film that it is, but not too much to dilute the primary purpose of this cinematic exercise: engage its audience in a full-throttle trip to a gory world of endless and mesmerizing action.
Mortal Kombat is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.