Forget the fall of the Berlin Wall, the death of Princess Diana, the dot-com bubble, the rise and fall of grunge rock or the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Nothing screams “the nineties” like Mortal Kombat to millennials.

It was the first to introduce gore in video games at such a scale. Ever since, violence has been a central theme of the mainstream gaming industry, spawning off a political and scientific research phenomenon on the relationship between violent games and aggressive behaviours of the sort that caused the Columbine High School massacre.

Mortal Kombat also had the unique distinction of being the only video game to have inspired a movie that is watchable - a feat perhaps unmatched until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog last year. Unfortunately, that movie was PG-13. The fan favourites were there: Sub-zero, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang and Goro. But, without the violence, the mortality was not rounded off by the video game’s infamous gruesome finishes in the discarding of opponents. It was like vegan cake – it is just not like the real thing.

In the reboot of the film franchise, the filmmakers were determined to correct this. There is no shortage of gore, with all fights concluding in blood-soaked graphic fatalities to satisfy the franchise fans. It was an easy decision to make, unlike for the 1990s versions, with R-rated action and fantasy movies such as Deadpool and Logan having now proven to be profitable.

The plot revolves around Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA professional that keeps losing fights, even in amateur games. Unbeknownst to him, he is a descendant of the fighter Hanzo Hasashi (played by the excellent Hiroyuki Sanada) and bears the dragon mark, which means that he is Earth's chosen champion.

In the Mortal Kombat universe, the world as we know it is a realm that is part of a prophecy that states a champion must be chosen every other century or so to face off against their counterparts in Outworld, another realm. The latter is ruled by a sorcerer that assembles fighters such as Sub-Zero and Goro.

In the interest of not delving too deep into a plot that is equal parts ridiculous and inconsistent, it is best to skim over the description. The bottom line is that Earthrealm’s champions must face off with those of the Outworld, lest the latter invade the former. Cole, a character created for the movie, must lead champions of this world to victory after discovering his powers in intense training.

When it comes to what Mortal Kombat has always been about – a martial arts fantasy film with lots of gore – the film delivers. The fighting is choreographed well. It is not Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where there is a calm and beauty to the fights, putting the “art” in martial arts. But neither is it the shaky and nauseating fighting choreography typical to Hollywood movies where the actors obviously cannot carry out the physical acts and thus need to be made to resemble effective fighters through heavy editing.

What of the plot and character development?

Well, expectations need to be generously lowered for any video game movie, and when it comes to the writing, Mortal Kombat requires this as well. Even then, it is hard not to be annoyed at how little effort went into making the characters three-dimensional. The protagonist, Cole, barely passes for a secondary character. The rest have about as rich a character as their video game versions.

But the biggest offender is the dialogue. It seems like an SNL parody. The filmmakers wrote the script to challenge the actors as to how many lines they would be able to say without breaking into laughter, or so it seems. It makes the Star Wars prequel trilogy look like a Tennessee Williams’ play by comparison.

PUBLISHED ON May 08,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1097]

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