REVIEW: Outside of the action, ‘Mortal Kombat’ falls flat

If there’s one thing this movie has in common with other “Mortal Kombat” films, it’s Raiden basically not fighting at all despite being a playable character in the games.

So this is another Hollywood shot at adapting the “Mortal Kombat” game franchise after an alright attempt in the 90s, which was followed by an abysmal sequel. In this latest attempt, the main character is Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Not actually featured in the game, Cole is an original character who gets by as a fighter who’s all about offense with very little defense.

One night after taking another loss, he’s attacked by a warrior well known as Sub Zero (Joe Taslim), who’s hunting him and other great fighters from Earth. Sub Zero is doing this under the orders of the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han), who wants to eliminate Earth’s best warriors to carve an easy path to a 10th Mortal Kombat Tournament victory, which would allow his realm to conquer the world.

To fight back, Cole is brought into a group with other Earth fighters who are determined to stop Tsung.

So, this movie is not as good as the 1995 film but it’s better than “Motal Kombat: Annihilation.” That’s not a huge accomplishment but it is what it is.

Now, this film shouldn’t be completely judged in how it compares to the 1995 movie, but there are a few aspects that are important when considering how the two play out. One advantage the 1995 flick had is its plot.

The 1995 movie features a tournament, and whether it’s a supernatural martial arts film or a sports picture, a tournament really helps with a three act structure

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Courtesy Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema.

The first act introduces the participants of the tournament and sets up the rules. The second act shows the early rounds and the third act includes the last rounds along with the final match. This format was in the first “Mortal Kombat” and it made for a concise action film.

Of course it’s not a necessity that this new “Mortal Kombat” follow this blueprint, but it is noticeable that the movie is rather poorly plotted in comparison.

There’s an opening scene with some lore from hundreds of years ago, then Cole is introduced, which is followed by a ton of exposition. When the movie does approach what should be the middle of the film, new characters, particularly the star of the video games Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), are introduced, which set off more character arcs.

As a result, the middle of the movie feels like things are still just getting started. It’s all rather poorly paced.

This clunky story structure continues as the movie approaches its finale, especially in how the main character Cole is handled.

Speaking of which, it’s questionable why this character was necessary. The main character of the games, and other movies for that matter, has been Liu Kang, yet here he’s kind of a secondary main character, or borderline side character. Cole meanwhile, just feels like a rather generic protagonist.

With how the story plays out, an argument can also be made that Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) should have been the main character. We learn early on that she’s not one of the chosen Earth champions to defend the world, yet she’s determined to help regardless.

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Watching her earn that status over the course of the movie would have worked well here and it would have been a satisfying character arc.

The rest of the characters featured are missed opportunities.

Liu Kang and Kung Lao are basically interchangeable warriors, while Raiden is just a stoic being. The latter is disappointing, too, since Raiden is supposed to be a mentor character, yet he has none of the traits of a good teacher.

He looks upset most of the time and never actually engages with the people he has recruited to train. Hell, “Kung Fu Panda” did it better with the character Shifu.

The villains are even worse. Shang Tsung is completely stiff and without any personality in this movie. It’s a far cry from Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa’s devilishly fun portrayal of the same character in the 1995 film.

Another wasted opportunity is the character Mileena. For those unfamiliar, in the games Mileena is a daughter to the main bad guy who is the ruler of the evil realm. She’s a merciless fighter with a blood lust, yet she’s also sassy and, with her background, carries a sort of monarch-like arrogance.

None of that comes across here. She’s basically just another evil henchman.

With all that said, there’s one main reason that people will watch this movie, and that’s for the fights. I will say that for the most part, they were pretty good.

The movie’s R-rating is earned here with some bloody battles, and they are in fact entertaining. The fight choreography is pretty solid, a person can see what’s going on, and some of the powers used make things amusing.

“Mortal Kombat” delivers in the action department, which is its main selling point. Yet it misses the mark in a lot of other areas. Streaming it is probably the best way to go here, it’s certainly not one to rush out to a theater for. 2.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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