It’s all very silly, but to its credit, MORTAL KOMBAT doesn’t take itself any more seriously than it expects us to. Based on the inordinately popular video game, it delivers everything you want in a video game, and declines to burden its audience with much in the way of a storyline. Instead, it’s a series of kombats that echo what appealed to the gamer along with the usual Hollywood approach that mucks up the character’s backstories while adding nothing to the mythos.
For those not familiar with the franchise, there is a tournament in which the Earthrealm, that would be us, competes with other vaguely defined realms. Each realm has an elder god watching over it, but one that is not really much help when it comes to helping any particular individual. Hence the opening sequence in which good guy Hando (Hiroyuki Sanada) briefly enjoys a bucolic existence in 17TH-century Japan with a loving wife and two children before being sent straight to Hell by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Most of said happy family dies, but Lord Raidon (Tadanobu Asano), the Elder God of the Earthrealm, arrives by lightning strike to save the baby daughter. And that’s a good thing, because in the 21st century there’s a prophecy of some sort, and a 10th tournament that will decide the Earthrealm’s fate. Fortunately, Hando’s great-great-great-etc. grandson, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is around, though he is a washed-up MMA fighter getting beaten to a pulp for $200 a fight. Never mind, he’s got the dragon birthmark, which means that Sub-Zero is after him and his family, loving wife Alison (Laura Brent), and daughter/corner-man Emily (Matilda Kimber).
Before Cole has had time to properly process the snowfall in a Chicago July that Sub-Zero unleashes, or the guy trying to kill him with icicles, he’s rescued by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and told to head for Gary, Indiana and find Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Only the shock and awe of unseasonal weather and Jax’s forceful, Special Forces commanding presence, could explain why he does just that. Once there, he meets former Special forces Blade, (Jessica McNamee) and her captive Cano (Josh Lawson) a surly Australian bounty hunter who has issues with powerful women and an acquired birthmark that gets him into the tournament.
What follows is a series of intramural bouts in the requisite secret fortress designed to get Earthrealm’s fighters ready for kombat, and the unfairness of the birthmark system that takes Sonya out of the competition. The elder god of the Outerrealm, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), meanwhile, is plotting how to cheat the system for the 10th tournament win that will assure his victory by taking out opponents before the official bout. He shows up in the secret fortress to suck up souls and throw down trash talk, while the official good guys spar amongst themselves in a sad display of disunity in the face of an apocalypse. That culminates in each newbie finding out their special power. Or not, in what feels like a tired excuse to provoke clichés and extended the exposition of pointless and unsuccessful character development.
Sure, there are nifty special effects. Jax’s prosthetic arms after an unfortunate interlude with Sub-Zero are flawless right down to the pectoral rivets that keep them in place, and who can resist Cole doing prolonged battle with a four-armed reptilian thing to protect his family after being booted out of the secret fortress? Not me. If only it were enough.
There have been other, equally futile, attempts to translate this video game into a viable cinematic franchise, and certainly this one leaves itself open to a sequel. It’s almost sweet. But, alas, this entrails-spilling excursion does little beyond warning us about the long-term dangers of sending a vengeful someone to Hell (or Netherrealm) and not trusting one’s instincts about someone who is so obviously awful. If there is an antonym for compelling, this is it.