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Mortal Kombat

by on April 22, 2021
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I have a long and storied history with the intellectual properties of “Mortal Kombat.”

I initially played the coin-op at the Aladdin’s Castle inside the Tippecanoe Mall and in an arcade attached to a café that was a mile or so from my house. My buddy and I would bicycle there and also play Aerosmith’s “Revolution X” and Capcom’s “Alien vs. Predator” and “The Punisher” (side-scroller beat ‘em ups that were essentially the same game only reskinned).

When it came time to update my Nintendo Entertainment System, I opted for a Sega Genesis as opposed to a Super Nintendo so I could enjoy the bloodiest console port of “Mortal Kombat” possible. (A-B-A-C-A-B-B, y’all!)

I really wanted to see Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 adaptation of “Mortal Kombat” theatrically despite the fact that it was only PG-13. My Mom being cool as shit opted to take my younger brother and I to the R-rated “Dangerous Minds” and “Desperado” instead. I eventually caught up with Anderson’s flick on VHS at a friend’s sleepover. The movie was underwhelming aside from the Immortals’ tune “Techno Syndrome” (“Mortal Kombat!”), a coupla cool fights between Scorpion and Sub-Zero and seeing Bridgette Wilson in something else after “Billy Madison.”

(The night was ultimately much more memorable due to the fact that I also saw my first porno as well – Ron Jeremy pounced on a woman sleeping on a pool chaise lounge … klassy! I eventually opted to shoot pool with our Mormon buddy who totally abstained from the smut. One of my friends also chased another one of our friends around with a shotgun like a worst case gun control public service announcement. We all survived … thankfully.)

My “Mortal Kombat” fandom continued into adulthood as I picked up and played “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” and “Mortal Kombat” (2011) for Xbox 360 and “Mortal Kombat X” and “Mortal Kombat 11” for Xbox One. My nerdy ass has been playing “11” all week long leading up to the release of debut director Simon McQuoid’s “Mortal Kombat” (available in theaters and on HBO Max beginning Friday, Apr. 23).

Hyped as I was, it’s with a heavy heart that I break the bad news … if you’ve seen the red band trailer for the flick, you’ve seen most of what “Mortal Kombat” has to offer.

“Mortal Kombat” opens with Bi-Han (Joe Taslim, “The Night Comes for Us”) murdering the wife (Yukiko Shinohara) and son (Ren Miyagawa) of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada, “The Twilight Samurai”) in feudal Japan. Hasashi goes to Hell where he’s transformed into Scorpion. Bi-Han lives on in eternity to become Sub-Zero.

We pick up some 400 years later with Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an unneeded character who was invented for this already overstuffed movie. He’s a down on his luck mixed martial artist whose best fighting days are behind him. He’s got a wife (Laura Brent) and daughter (Matilda Kimber). He also has a familiar/familial dragon emblem on his chest that he was born with, which means he’s destined to be a participant in Mortal Kombat and puts him square in the icy crosshairs of the immortal Sub-Zero.

Sub-Zero is doing the bidding of Shang Tsung (Chin Han), the leader of Outworld. Tsung wants all of Earth’s “kombatants” vanquished to ensure that Outworld will win its 10th consecutive Mortal Kombat giving him control of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Aiding Cole in his fight against Tsung and Sub-Zero are Jax (Mehcad Brooks of “True Blood” and “Supergirl”) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee from “The Meg”). They eventually lead him to Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano, Hogun from the “Thor” flicks), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) for training and guidance.

Not all fighters are born with the mark like Cole; Blade’s captive Kano (Josh Lawson, recently seen playing Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, in “Bombshell”) received his by killing marked man Kabal (embodied by Daniel Nelson and voiced by Damon Herriman AKA Dewey Crowe in “Justified” and Charles Manson from “Mindhunter” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”) thus inheriting the emblem.

There’s as much to dig about “Mortal Kombat” as there is to dislike about it. Let’s start with the positive. The picture is unapologetically R-rated, which is just about all I’ve wanted ever since I was 12. There’s a Fatality involving Kung Lao’s hat that left me unabashedly clapping and laughing. The fights that begin and end the picture between Scorpion and Sub-Zero and Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Cole are pretty cool. Lawson as Kano is the acting MVP of the picture – he has the best lines/delivery and gives off a distinctly Vernon Wells as Bennett in “Commando” sorta vibe.

Now for the bad: almost everyone other than Lawson is kinda bad. Tan as Cole (ostensibly the picture’s lead) is a good-looking dude, but not an especially capable actor. Han is a good actor, but he’s miscast as Shang Tsung. Why not just bring back Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who was so boss in the role? I like Brooks as a performer, but would’ve much preferred the filmmakers bring back Michael Jai White from the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” web series as Jax. The fights generally aren’t very well done – they’re all filmed too tightly and cut to all holy hell. I would love to see this material handled by a filmmaker adept at capturing martial arts choreography such as Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Isaac Florentine or Jesse V. Johnson. Many of the special effects are as bad or worse than those featured in “Mortal Kombat” ‘95. The script by first-timer Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (experienced with lackluster video game adaptations after “Doom”) is shakier than Kano after a dozen brewskis.

Much of “Mortal Kombat” seems like it’s setting the table for future installments. I want to see further adventures in this world – I just want them to be better acted, scripted, rendered and choreographed. Continue bringing on the blood – just have the guts to elevate the material.

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