To summarize the new “Mortal Kombat” reboot, I’ll turn to lyrics sung by late AC/DC frontman Bon Scott on the rock band’s 1979 “Highway to Hell” album.
MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)
Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han
Directed by Simon McQuoid
Blood on the streets
Blood on the rocks
Blood in the gutter
Every last drop
You want blood
You got it
Making his feature debut, director Simon McQuoid manages to do two things with his version of the beloved Mortal Kombat franchise. First, he replicates the violent atmosphere of the 1992 Midway game which should satisfy fans, and second, he delivers an entertaining thrill ride for non-gamers that embodies the enchantment of Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation films and the conviviality of John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China,” with oodles of gore that carry producer James Wan’s signature.
Judging by the number of F-bombs in the film, “Mortal Kombat” wastes no time pointing out that this is not another PG-13 version of the world created by Ed Boon and John Tobias — I had to check the credits to see if Joe Pesci was listed as one of the screenwriters — you can thank Greg Russo and Dave Callaham for the salty language that adds street cred to the reboot filled with first-rate CGI effects, roaring fight sequences, and just the right amount of comedy to balance out the action.
One of the franchise’s beloved characters may be missing — judging from the film’s ending, it seems bigger and better things are in store for this MIA combatant — so we are introduced to a new protagonist named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a family man and MMA fighter with a knack for losing. Bringing in a fresh character is a great way to put newcomers and diehard fans on the same playing field but Russo (whose Xbox Gamerscore of 1.5 million ranks him in the Top 50 worldwide players) and Callaham (“Wonder Woman 1984”) realize that there has to be a good reason to bring someone new into the fold and so the “chosen” newbie sporting a dragon birthmark is written into the mythology beginning with the film’s opening flashback.
As far as the good-vs-evil plot is concerned, the only thing you really need to know is that our world, Earthrealm, led by elder Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) is one match away from being taken over by Outworld’s soul-stealing dark leader Shang Tsung (Chin Han) whose warriors have defeated Earthrealm’s fighters in the last nine Mortal Kombat tournaments.
Fan-favorite Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), who uses ice as a weapon, is dispatched by Shang Tsung to assassinate Earthrealm’s chosen warriors who have gathered at Lord Raiden’s temple to train with champions, fiery Shaolin monk Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and razor hat sporting Kung Lao (Max Huang). There’s a great fatality involving Lao’s buzzsaw-morphing-hat that recalls his signature move from Mortal Kombat 9. When the video game debuted nearly 30 years ago, its violent content was partly responsible for the inception of the ESRB rating system.
Earthrealm’s cream of the crop includes loudmouth mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), whose wisecracks offer plenty of comedy relief as he charms you with his egocentric personality while literally tearing your heart out. Lawson’s exuberant performance is one of the film’s highlights. There’s also tough-as-nails Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who doesn’t yet bear the dragon birthmark and special forces commander Jackson Briggs aka Jax (played by avid gamer and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Mehcad Brooks) who goes to show you can’t keep a good combatant down.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 “Mortal Kombat” film was campy fun. However, it lacked the bloody savageness of the game, yet it was too violent for its targeted young audience. Two years later “Mortal Kombat Annihilation” proved to be a mindless cash grab shunned by both critics and audiences.
Simon McQuoid’s reboot takes the material as seriously as one can while concentrating on every detail from the costumes to the special effects which look great although a couple of the baddies (Goro and Reptile in particular) lack the realistic look but who cares, those characters are fun to watch. “Mortal Kombat” is back just in time to kick start the box office and a new franchise.
Now showing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max