Creating film adaptations of video game franchises — with expansive mythology layered over dozens or hundreds of hours of gameplay — is a consistently daunting task that few have successfully tackled. Mortal Kombat has surprisingly complex mythology that’s evolved over three decades and 20 installments, increasing the difficulty of condensing it all into a two-hour film.
Mortal Kombat is not up to the task.
The plot goes something like this — there’s a tournament called Mortal Kombat, and Earth (or Earthrealm) has lost nine consecutive times to Outworld (apparently another realm). If Earth loses one more time (ten!), then it will be taken over by Outworld. This is bad. Because Outworld has bad people with evil superpowers.
Earth is defended by a series of champions, designated by a dragon (tattoo? Scar?) that automatically imprints on a champion’s skin when said champion…kills a previous champion? Or a bad guy? It’s unclear. People are fighting. It’s a movie adaptation of a fighting game!
To call Mortal Kombat bad feels like a gross understatement. It is wonderfully bad, and at times downright entertaining in its awfulness. None of it makes any sense, the characters are paper-thin, and the pacing is excruciating. The film labors through a complex and nonsensical hour of exposition interspersed with tantalizing fight scenes, before deciding, “f*** it, we all know why we’re here,” and becoming just one long fight for the film’s final hour.
The fights within the film are pretty good The choreography is sometimes great and brutally violent, excellent homages to the video games they’re emulating. Long-time players of the game will recognize many action sequences from the games.
Those fans will likely find something to enjoy in Mortal Kombat, even if it is just microdoses of nostalgia. Characters use famous catchphrases like “get over here” and “flawless victory,” to mixed results; some land, some feel hokey. But overall the dedication to the franchise’s history is a bright spot.
Josh Lawson’s Kano is also a treat; those who remember his character from House of Lies will be shocked and delighted. But despite several interesting casting choices and actors giving it their all, the film suffers from terrible dialogue and delivery. When one character says “He’s sucking out his soul,” it feels both juvenile and unintentionally dirty, not the dramatic and emotional moment they were going for.
But a deep appreciation for the expansive Mortal Kombat mythos only makes the film slightly tolerable.
If someone wants to make a good Mortal Kombat movie, they should drop the pretense of a plot and just show the characters fighting. It would probably be shorter; it would certainly be better than this mess.