The latest reboot to the famous video game franchise still struggles with plot, but provides plenty of ultimate action!

The cult video game returned to the big screen, and raised high expectations from gamers and action movie fans alike. Finally we got an R-rated take on the Mortal Kombat franchise with the fights in all their gory glory! The first two movies and the TV series certainly did not do justice at all to the uninhibited violence of the games. 

Video game adaptations surely have evolved since early works such as Street Fighter and their serious trash factor. More refined releases followed swiftly, and the 2000s may have been the sweet spot for the genre with thoroughly entertaining films like Silent Hill, Resident Evil 1-3 and Postal. Since then, the genre has somewhat degenerated into sterile and uninspired celluloid fast food like Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft, with 2020’s surprise hit Sonic The Hedgehog being a positive exception. So let’s have a look where Mortal Kombat takes its place in this spectrum.

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The world is on the verge of falling under the grip of Outworld tyrant Shang Tsung if humanity’s chosen fighters lose another Mortal Kombat tournament. Cole is an unsuccessful MMA fighter who discovers his calling, and joins a band of fighters who seek to be trained by the mighty Lord Raiden to prepare for the ultimate showdown with Shang Tsung and his diabolical minions.

Just like its predecessors, Mortal Kombat does not shine in the plot, dialogue or acting departments, so it’s business as usual in that regard. But that’s no problem, the film goes all in on action instead with tons of fights featuring many different characters from the game. The fatalities also keep coming at a good rate, and some of them are delightfully over the top. 

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Energetic, Ultraviolet and campy Martial Arts Action

The opening sequence and final showdown are both freaking awesome, and deliver high-octane action with a solid fight choreography. And while the fights we get so see in between these two sequences also have their moments, they are thwarted by the usual choppy editing style of modern blockbuster action movies. They also don’t ignite this spark that you need to knock the audience into their seats, there’s no surprises or originality to be found in any of them.

I think no one was really expecting a masterpiece of modern martial arts cinema, and it’s more than okay that Mortal Kombat puts its focus on spectacle, and not on the skills of the martial artists. But I could not help comparing the film with 2009’s Ninja Assassin that delivered everything I hoped Mortal Kombat would do: energetic, ultraviolent and campy martial arts action.

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Another problem the movie had for me is that it is way too serious for its own good. A bit more lightheartedness would have been great, after all it’s still a film about people in funky costumes throwing fireballs and ripping each other’s spine out like it is the easiest thing in the world! Instead, we need to sit through many moments that try to create the vibe of an epic drama, but which are somewhat embarrassing to watch. The central character Cole is rather bland, and the generic family-in-distress subplot that was squeezed into the script also does not help to elevate the excitement.

For an R-rated movie Mortal Kombat turns out to be a surprisingly tame crowd-pleaser (which was probably a calculated move by the studio executives to make sure it recovers its budget). It gives us plenty of fights between the many characters from the game, and the occasional brutal violence. In doing so, the film fulfills its duty to the fanbase, and nothing more. It’s certainly worth a watch, but overall takes a too unambitious approach to its template to become a truly awesome film.

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