Let’s get ready to rumble, with rebooted video game adaptation that brings back….well, to be honest, I’ve no idea if this brings back the original feel of Mortal Kombat, because my memories of playing the game have faded like the-day-before-yesterday’s dream. A beat-‘em up in the vein of Street Fighter, players used to pick a fighter from an array of funny-looking characters (Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero) all with a signature move, and then fight to the death in a tournament of body-slams, grunting, fire-balls and ice-swords.
That Simon McQuoid’s movie version, abruptly on streaming in the UK less than two weeks after Warners said they had no plans to release it, features no Johnny Cage and never ventures as far as the tournament suggests that this ain’t yo mamma’s Mortal Kombat, if yo mamma ever had such a thing. With James Wan exec-producing, the model seems the Fast and Furious or even the Avengers franchise; it take a good forty minutes to gather our athletes, and then a good twenty minutes of training before the bad guys show up. In the meantime we meet MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) and watch him get sucked into the deeply uninteresting struggle between Earthrealm and Outworld.
Young is the main character, but there’s a gallery of others, including Sonya Blade (Jesica McNamee), harmless, armless Jaxx (Mehcad Brooks), and Josh Lawson as the perennially angry Kano, who drops irreverent self-referential pop-culture bombs with practically every line. There’s some waffle about prophecies and dragon mark tattoos, some vaguely defined bad guys, and a chief villain in the form of Sub Zero (Joe Taslim), who is established as a threat of a key heroic blood-line in a lengthy 17th century Japan-set opening.
McQuoid does seem to have a hot take – a hard R version, with heavy duty swearing, a lot of humour, and a lot of extreme fantasy violence. Things are bright enough while we establish multiple characters but are as slow as a week in the jail by the time we get to the temple of Lord Raiden (Tabanobo Sato) for a long training montage and a bit of squabbling and betrayal. Mortal Kombat resolves itself with a full programme of fights, none of which are important enough to cut away from to show another fight happening simultaneously. While none of this re-invents cinema as art, Mortal Kombat’s 2021 incarnation is considerably more fun than might have been expected, with a brisk, packed narrative and lots of fan service. In a blockbuster-starved dystopia circa 2021, Mortal Kombat deserves an unlikely streaming success; it’s undemanding, expensive-looking fluff that has nothing to say about our current predicament other than eliciting gasps at the multiple good kills featured here.