When developers Ed Boon and John Tobias conceived of the video game Mortal Kombat waaaaaaay back in 1990-something-or-other, not even they could conceive of its becoming an absolute juggernaut property (to be fair, Congress’ response to its now-tame violence was probably the biggest favor anyone ever did for anyone)—but the ol’ MK has grown -massively and captured fans across generations. That’s kind of why director Paul W.S. Anderson (he makes those awful Resident Evil movies, too) made the original movie in 1995, and that’s for sure why Simon McQuoid is out there with a new take as of last week.
And though the lore of the Mortal Kombat multiverse is the sort of knotted madness that can only come from decades of adding, adjusting, retconning and re-kajiggering, McQuoid starts simply here, with information about a semi-annual, multi-dimensional martial arts tournament that, for some reason, allows whatever dimension is victorious to take over another dimension. Yikes.
But let’s go back a bit to a Japanese curse from the 1600s, where Sub Zero (yes, that’s a name; Joe Taslim), uses his ice powers to kill some poor schmoe and his family. See, Sub Zero hails from Outworld, which is, like, this desert hellscape zone run by a dude called Shang Tsung (Chin Han) who is for sure a little power-hungry. Seems he doesn’t want to take part in the upcoming tournament so much as he wants to use monsters and four-armed beasts to kill everyone because there can’t be a tournament if there aren’t any fighters, right? Still with us? We don’t actually care, because here in Earthrealm (that’s where we live), MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) just found out he’s been marked with a mystical dragon...thing, and thus chosen to take part in mortal kombat (lower-case k this time).
Do the monsters and four-armed beasts and MMA fighters get backstories? A little! But barely! Do they get character development? Shit, no! Will you care? Not even at all, because someplace between the ice swords and robot arms and lasers fired from eyeballs belonging to Australian mercenaries, you just kind of think “Fuck it,” and get pumped on that multi--dimensional ice ninja slashing a dude from hell, freezing his blood into a blood knife in mid-air and then stabbing said dude from hell with his own blood...knife. McQuoid leans into why we’re watching (kung fu and robot arms) so brilliantly, in fact, that you won’t even care how cringey it is to hear a character use a line from the games like “Flawless victory!” And that’s because the character who said it just sawed someone in half with his hat. HIS HAT!
Anyway, it’s a really stupid movie with solid CGI and some very cool fight scenes. Can we ask for more? Should we? Nope. This is exactly what a Mortal Kombat movie needed to be, and you bet your robot arms there’s going to be a sequel. Heck, it might even become its own movie universe now that someone made a movie worth watching.
+Stylized violence; blood knife
-Story literally does not matter
Directed by McQuoid
With Taslim, Tan and Han
HBO Max, R, 110 min.