Movies based on video games have not worked for a multitude of reasons. Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat runs into those same problems with too much plot, shaky acting and a main character who is supposed to be the audience surrogate, but ends up as uninteresting.
The film stars Lewis Tan as Cole Young, a washed-up MMA fighter with a distinct dragon birthmark on his chest. The “birthmark” means Young is an Earthrealm warrior meant to compete in Mortal Kombat, an ancient deathmatch tournament against the evil Outworld. Young is completely unaware of this, but is informed by Jax (Mechad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who are both special forces soldiers investigating Mortal Kombat. Jax gained his dragon mark by killing someone who had it, while Young was born with it. Sonya has no marking.
Young and his family are attacked by Sub Zero (Joe Talsim), which sends them on a journey to learn more about the tournament. This leads them to Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and Earthrealm champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). They are joined by loudmouth mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) to train towards their “arcana” – the special power unique to all fighters with the dragon marking.
All the while, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), a soul-eating sorcerer of Outworld, dispatches a series of fighters to intercept and kill Earthworld champions before the tournament can begin.
I have described the first 40 minutes of the film and I could keep going with more plot; hence the problem. The original game was a simple concept: choose your fighter, fight your way to the top, blood and guts galore, rinse and repeat. The game contained no plot, but that is no way for a film to work. Instead, the filmmakers overcompensated and shoved as much plot in as possible.
Cole Young is a character created specifically for the film and he’s a problem. Fans of the game have no connection to Young and everything he does in the film forces the more interesting characters to come and save him. This is not Lewis Tan’s fault, as he performs admirably, but there is nothing there for him to do besides punch or get punched.
As for those bloody fights, the opening moments of the film feature the most action in the first hour. We are introduced to ninja Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) as he dispatches a number of faceless foes following the death of his wife and son. There is dismemberment, impaling and face stabbings, all accompanied by a gush of blood. Unfortunately, the action halts almost completely until the 60-minute mark, The fights do end up being visceral and fun, but it all takes way too long to get there.
The unknown cast is served in certain areas, but others need a familiar face. McNamee is given very little to do as Sonya, while Brooks comes across as the most likeable, despite also having little to do for long stretches. Lin and Huang make a nice pair, but they have no context to their characters, other than being stoic and awesome. The villainous Outworld fighters are also given nothing to work with. Mileena (Sisi Stringer) is viciously canabalistic fighter with a full face of teeth, but you wouldn’t know it from this film, other than the 15 seconds where it tries to cram it all in.
Lawson’s portrayal of Kano is the most dynamic, but also the most grating. Lawson portrays the mercenary as all bluster and no action, despite occasionally doling out some action. The other characters put up with him due to his dragon marking, but his non-stop chattering makes it clear to the audience where his true allegiances lie.
The film also suffers from a complete lack of self-awareness. You would think a film featuring fire dragons, four armed warrior princes and a guy who shoots ice out of his hands would take it all with a wink, but every character is stone-cold serious. Kano is the sole character who doesn’t seem to care, but it comes across as sociopathic, rather than self-acknowledging.
Mortal Kombat could have been dumb fun and features some genuinely dynamic and interesting fight scenes, but everything outside of the fighting is a complete miss. Maybe the inevitable sequel will fix these issues, because I doubt it could get worse.