‘Mortal Kombat’ is an unfortunate fatality

Saying that movie adaptations of video games have had a rocky history is an understatement. Underwhelming past attempts like “Assassin’s Creed” and the “Resident Evil” film series have left the myth of a curse over the genre. The most recent attempt to break that curse is “Mortal Kombat,” a live-action adaptation of the fighting game series of the same name.
According to legend, there is a great tournament known as Mortal Kombat that pits select champions from our world (Earthrealm) against those of another realm (Outworld). Outworld has won the last nine, and if they win again, they conquer Earthrealm. Now it’s up to Cole Young played by Lewis Tan, and a handful of other fighters, to defend Earthrealm in this fight to the death.
This is not the first film adaptation of “Mortal Kombat.” The original came out in 1995 with a sequel released two years later. Those movies are about as cheesy as you can get, and they were only rated PG-13, which doesn’t allow for the level of violence these games have become known for.
Oh boy, this film earns an R-rating though. “Mortal Kombat” certainly isn’t for the squeamish since characters get stabbed, sliced and burned alive. It gives the well-choreographed fight scenes some extra punch that the original movies lacked and remains more faithful to the games they’re based on.
These fights, however, lead to some tonal inconsistency. On one hand, you have the cartoonishly gory fight scenes that come off as silly, just as they did in the games. On the other hand, characters are constantly brooding over their various stoic and boring motivations. There’s never a solid balance between the two. The film seems like it wants to be more absurd (like with the introduction of Kano played by Josh Lawson who is a hilarious standout), but it never fully leans into it.
Fans of the video games will likely be excited to see iconic characters use their powers and quote their catchphrases. For everyone else, it all may seem a bit awkward. One character, Kung Lao played by Max Huang, says “flawless victory” at the end of a scene. This is a popular line from the games, but it doesn’t make sense in the context of the movie. It’s fan service for the sake of fan service, and this movie goes overboard with that.
“Mortal Kombat” commits the cardinal sin that so many blockbuster movies seem to repeat: it acts more like a set-up movie than a standalone adventure. The synopsis earlier in the review is what the plot sets up initially; however, the Mortal Kombat tournament never actually happens in this movie. The movie is just about the villains trying to stop the heroes from preparing for the tournament. There’s still plenty of action, but it feels a bit disingenuous to call the film “Mortal Kombat” and not have the titular fight until the supposed sequel.
Unfortunately, this film doesn’t break the video game movie curse. It’s nowhere near the worst one out there, and it’s an improvement over the ’90s adaptations, but it still isn’t that good. There’s so much potential here that is just squandered by a studio that prioritizes making a franchise over making a fun movie.