Lewis Tan plays the hero in “Mortal Kombat.” (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Lewis Tan plays the hero in “Mortal Kombat.” (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

‘Mortal Kombat’ is surprising dumb fun

Gory reboot is a rare fresh film based on a video game


Opening Friday in theaters, and available for 30 days on HBO Max, “Mortal Kombat” is a bloody reboot of a 1995 movie, and based on a long-running video game series.

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes keeps a list of movies adapted from video games. Out of the current 44 listed, only three — “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” — have earned “fresh” ratings.

Shockingly, “Mortal Kombat” could join them.

It’s far from a flawless masterpiece and it has more than a few dead spots. But the rest of it is surprisingly well-executed, enough so that it’ll be worth a viewing if you know what you’re getting yourself into.

The problems begin with the story. For some reason, Earthrealm (the good guys) must fight 10 battles with the Outworld realm (the bad guys).

Apparently nine battles have been fought, with Outworld winning each time (although they admit to cheating). The movie doesn’t explain why, or how, or where, or how frequently the battles take place, or who referees.

The 10th battle is looming, but what occurs in the movie is not an official battle, but an attack on the good guys’ training facility. So does it count? Who knows?

It’s probably better that the movie doesn’t bother solving these dumb problems, but just gets on with things.

The hero is Cole Young (Lewis Tan, “Deadpool 2”), who was born with a strange, dragon-shaped birthmark on his chest. Now he’s a cage fighter on a losing streak, although he has a loving wife and a helpful daughter to come home to.

He is approached by Jax (Mehcad Brooks, TV’s “Supergirl”), who warns him that evil forces are after him. He stashes his wife and daughter someplace safe and pays a visit to Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee, “The Meg”).

Sonya has a wall full of charts and photos and clippings, and she somehow has figured out the Earthrealm vs. Outworld thing. When she explains it to Cole, his response is “Did you just make that last part up?”

At any rate, Cole and Sonya, along with an arrogant, obnoxious Australian fellow named Kano (Josh Lawson) — who also has a birthmark — must travel to a secret temple to train. Jax, who had his arms torn off by the movie’s lead bad guy, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), and replaced by robot arms, meets them there.

They also meet two other “chosen ones” — Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) — both of whom have already unlocked their “arcana,” or their inner secret power. It’s up to our heroes to find theirs before the battle starts.

The movie is nicely diverse, with an Asian man, a white woman and a Black man the three main, extremely likable heroes. The only prominent white man, Kano, is described, even by the bad guys, as a “lowlife, piece of s—t scumbag,” and it’s hard to disagree.

Meanwhile, the bad guys occasionally show up and speak in somber tones about “the prophecy” and other nonsense. They are stuck with the worst of the dialogue and are often blanketed in a bluish-gray tint, making their scenes tragically boring.

But when the blood-spattered action starts, it is quite impressive. While Simon McQuoid making his feature directing debut right out of a career in commercials could be a recipe for disaster, it’s not. His opening sequence, which takes place in 17th century Japan to set up the story, features warrior Hanzo Hasashi (a very cool Hiroyuki Sanada) defending his wife and family from an attacking (and apparently immortal?) Sub-Zero and an army of henchmen.

Tracked by clear, fluid camerawork and intuitive editing, Hanzo neatly, gorily dispatches the flunkies with his sword, and then with his wife’s gardening trowel, which he ties to the end of a rope and whips around like a razor-sharp yo-yo.

That opening makes us sit up and pay attention, and subsequent fights — each with a purpose as well as unexpected twists and turns — do not disappoint.

Even a fight with a giant monster that looks like a badly botched 3D print of the Incredible Hulk is inexplicably cool.

While “Mortal Kombat” is about as shallow as a movie can possibly get, and has very little point, as a purely physical experience, it gives viewers a little adrenaline rush, and the feeling of tensing up and maybe feeling like they, too, are about to join the fight, and it works.


Mortal Kombat

★★ 1/2

Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada

Written by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham

Directed by: Simon McQuoid

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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