Mortal Kombat is a dangerous franchise.
I don’t mean that literally! It just has a huge legacy to live up to, and I don’t envy anyone that has the responsibility of taking it on. Not only does a new Mortal Kombat film need to appease the fans of the game series, it also needs to measure up to the cult classic ‘90s original. The newest entry only does one of those things. Let’s talk about it.
This version of Mortal Kombat starts off fairly strong, with a mostly grounded fight between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who has some…light frost powers (but nothing too over-the-top). It’s an easy ‘sell’ for people who think MK will be nothing more than an ultra-violent, hokey video game, but then it tonally shifts so often that it only ends up pleasing a specific Earth realm audience.
We’re giving a giant exposition dump at the start in text form, with Cole Young (a new character to this universe) serving as the surrogate for the audience: trying to make sense of all of these demons, invasions, and Gods. Cole needs to become a combatant in Mortal Kombat to save the world, and sort of stumbles into an ensemble cast we know from the games.
It’s here that the film starts to turn into an old tuned-up sports car running on empty. A few of the fights are difficult to follow with multiple cuts, and the finale is a montage of battling. Sometimes they will say things like “I am Sub-Zero” (who has a really big problem leaving people for dead without a confirmed kill!) just in case you are familiar with the characters from the games. Characters might make cute references that fans will get but they are otherwise cardboard cutouts.
Josh Lawson on the other hand is a bright spot as Kano (the unscrupulous mercenary): he knows exactly what he’s doing and has just the right amount of scenery chewing and ham to make everyone smile. Mortal Kombat also had a few outright cool scenes like the entrance of a certain hat-wearing fighter that tease what might have been. If only the film had focused on what it did well the entire time, it could have reached across the aisle and made everyone happy.
As-is, Mortal Kombat has a lot of game references that are going to please hardcore fans to an extent. You can tell the cast and crew actually cared when they made it, the issue is that the script and the edited finished film don’t really come together at a macro level to form a cohesive, fun story. Add in a rushed ending and sequel baiting and you have a very murky and cold franchise soup: just like WB likes it. ‘Maybe the next will be better’ is something that’s said far too often with the planned series, but here we are again.