Warner Bros. tackles another video-game property to mixed results

By: Steve Pulaski

Paul W.S. Anderson’s original Mortal Kombat film from 1995, in retrospect, offered us quite a bit given it operated under the ignominious label of “video-game film adaptation.” It gave us familiar characters with adequately fleshed-out personalities, a brief but serviceable foundation for the narrative, and some varied scenes of combat. Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat reboot offers us serviceable characters, a rather lackluster narrative, but some gleefully bloody, brutal fighting sequences. The lack of bloodshed was the biggest negative for Anderson’s film. McQuoid’s more than makes up for that plus the lost time in between.

Arguably some of the best filmmaking to be found in Mortal Kombat occurs in the extended opening scene. We’re dropped in 17th Century Japan where assassins, led by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), storm the village of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), killing his wife and son and leaving his spirit to reside in Netherrealm. It’s the famous Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), who takes his hidden infant daughter away to safety.

Cut to present day, where MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is still fighting for chump-change. Cole is being hunted, however, by Sub-Zero (Taslim), leaving him few options besides enlisting in the help of Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Realizing he’s a man marked with a strange dragon tattoo like Jax (Mehcad Brooks), a Special Forces Major, he begins training with Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Kano (Josh Lawson), perhaps the most amusing of all. The end goal is to be among Earth’s elite class of fighters, prepped for battle against the mercenaries of the Outworld.

Though the film might revolve around Cole, Kano is easily the standout character. Lawson gifts the rogue warrior an icy, vulgar exterior, with a quip for every situation. “You oughta be one of them silent monks,” he mouths off to a character who challenges his braggadocios demeanor. Screenwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Zombieland: Double Tap) make Kano both the comic relief and the primary instigator when it comes to battle sequences.

The real treat is in the bloodshed. Mortal Kombat ups the ante like a grindhouse action flick primed to give audiences the carnage they crave. I dare not spoil the fun, but to give you an inkling of what to expect, a sombrero becomes a rotating saw in a split-second. The famous line “finish him” is delivered with the corny yet satisfying cadence that will leave fans giddy.

But here’s where I’m torn. Mortal Kombat is again another example of Hollywood banking on multiple sequels rather than zeroing in on making one great film that demands you be excited for the next. The third act plays a rather cruel joke in resisting the temptation for a real Mortal Kombat tournament by giving us something close enough for comfort but far enough away from the actual event. As I cautiously predicted, it’s a feature-length prologue designed to set the stage for future installments while remaining uncommitted to giving fans something to invest in and rally around while they await those (still unconfirmed) sequels. You’d like to think with the plethora of failed franchise-starters and shared universe concoctions Hollywood would know by now that making one great film goes a long way.

Warner Bros. has remained committed in one major realm and that’s bringing several video game properties — Tomb Raider, Rampage, and Detective Pikachu — to the big screen. Mortal Kombat fits right in with the crowd in terms of being mostly middle-of-the-road entertainment. However, with McQuoid’s film, series loyalists will see their favorite characters appear recognizable and be treated to delicious fan service and copious gore with a handful of eye-grabbing fatalities. On that note alone, you can’t consider this film a loss; at least not a major one, in the grand scheme.

Grade: C


[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYH2sLid0Zc [/embedyt]