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‘Mortal Kombat’ is neither a flawless victory nor a fatality

‘Mortal Kombat’ is neither a flawless victory nor a fatality

‘Mortal Kombat’ is neither a flawless victory nor a fatality
April 30
13:30 2021

Test your might!”

Disgraced MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is just barely scraping by when a superpowered assassin, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), starts hunting him and his family. Trying to figure out what’s going on, Cole meets Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who suspects he has some tie to Mortal Kombat, an ancient tournament that will dictate the fate of Earthrealm. As they find further allies, sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) seeks to undermine the tournament and murder Earth’s best champions. Meanwhile, Cole appears to have some connection to the long-dead ninja, Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada).

The newest attempt at bringing gaming’s goriest franchise to the big screen, “Mortal Kombat” comes from first-time director Simon McQuoid and screenwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callaham. Whereas the ’95 original traded the gore for a more charismatic cast of characters and access to the PG-13 box office, director McQuoid is aiming for a more faithful translation of the characters, mythology and of course the series’s signature gory fatalities.

So, does this new “Mortal Kombat” deliver a bloody, flawless victory or become a fatality itself? Neither.

While McQuoid’s take certainly delivers on the gore and visual iconography, the movie lacks just about everything else — including consistently thrilling fights, which is usually a death knell for any action movie.

The fighting is good in some places and terrible in others. After the 10-minute mark, the editing becomes incredibly chopping, with barely a second or two passing without some sudden cut. The framing, which is just as important in any fight as the choreography and editing, also mostly sticks to the actor’s upper torso and constantly switches thanks to the editing. As a result, what honestly looks like good choreography suffers because it’s hard to see it. Bone-shattering blows, again, lose their force.

Inversely, there are maybe three or four good fights here: the two between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, the matchup between Cole and the four-armed Prince Goro and then another one near the end. Maybe it’s because the heavier use of CGI in these scenes forces the crew to go for longer takes, but these have way more strength behind them than any of the other ones.

Maybe this was a choice on part of McQuoid, the editors who have worked on multiple Marvel productions or the multiple second unit and assistant directors. McQuoid’s background, like many directors, is in commercials. Going by his Duracell commercial, he does use shaky cam and quick edits, but it’s hard to tell if maybe the editors didn’t know what they were doing or the studio interfered.

Still, after a decade of action classics like “The Raid,” “John Wick” and “Mission Impossible” franchises setting the bar high, there really is no excuse for studios failing to live up to those standards. Especially when they’re making a “Mortal Kombat” movie.

Still, a couple of things work. The gore is fantastic, surviving the adaptation process, ironically, completely unscathed. There’s only about a full minute of them and they’re mostly towards the last half, but they’re jaw-dropping and certainly a high point. Those who missed them last time won’t be disappointed.

Some of the performers are also pretty entertaining, withJosh Lawson’s Kano easily being this movie’s MVP, along with Taslim as Sub-Zero and Sanada as Scorpion. Ludi Lin and Max Huang’s Liu Kang and Kung Lao are also good, as is Tadanobu Asano’s Raiden, even if they don’t get enough characterization.

Sadly, Tan’s Cole Young is weighed down by cliche writing and is overshadowed by the comparatively more developed and interesting characters around him. This is a shame since Tan is a charismatic actor who has proven himself as a martial artist in the past, who would’ve made a great Johnny Cage.

The writing is also just bad. It’s not campy — it’s just plain bad. The actors mentioned above are working overtime with so little. Scorpion and Sub-Zero, two of this franchise’s biggest staples, don’t really get much. What’s cool about them is entirely thanks to the costuming, choreography plus Taslim and Sanada. Liu Kang also gets very little, despite being maybe “Mortal Kombat’s” most important protagonist.

As for the musical score, Benjamin Wallfisch actually does a decent job blending synthesizers and orchestral motifs to create some memorable pieces, like “Tournament” and “We Fight As One.” His remix of the iconic EDM theme, “Techno Syndrome,” is also, admittedly, a banger.

Overall, “Mortal Kombat” misses the mark. While it has its moments, it’s mostly a mixed bag. Instead of scoring a flawless victory or suffering a fatality, it just sways back and forth, like one of the game’s expired fighters. The previous attempt from 1995 is still a fun campy classic, while “Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge” remains probably the best MK movie.

Will’s rating: 2.5/5

Courtesy Warner Bros.

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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