Confidence is a form of cinematic grace. A filmmaker’s knowing wink to the audience can go a long way, especially when an established property is at stake. Confidence can look like cheap fan service, at the level of “Rey Skywalker” or “What are we, some kind of suicide squad?” But at best, it suggests that some creators are realizing the limits of narrative and taking the chance to play within their organic limits. That’s it Mortal Kombat Movie restart works best.
Deliberate cinematic self-esteem looks like the Fast and the Furious franchise, which got its audiences used to increasingly eccentric heists for 20 years until sending cars into space seems as natural as a quarter mile race. Failed self-esteem looks like live action Mulan Explain the self-reliance and independence of the female protagonist through a mythical chi power and an unexpected affection for nationalism. Dizzyingly satisfying self-esteem looks like Simon McQuoid’s new version of the Mortal Kombat Universe that features a remix of the 1995 film’s techno theme song by The Immortals, a Dagger of Frozen Blood, and Kung Laos Hat Grinder Death that blows a person’s body apart. A guy yells: “Mortal Kombat!” Sometime? Yes he does!
Leaning into nostalgia can be a lazy and uninteresting tactic. After a certain point, seeing another pale imitation of something you once loved doesn’t offer nearly the same thrill as the original. But that in 2021 Mortal Kombat would do well to avoid a beat-by-beat replication of Paul WS Anderson’s initial cinematic adaptation of the video game, the violence of which terrified American parents that it was the focus of Congressional hearings in 1993 and 1994. Instead, the script by Greg Russo and Chinese – American screenwriter Dave Callaham (who also co-wrote the upcoming one) Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings
The main protagonist of the film is a completely original character. Some character background stories have been tweaked. And the explanation for the fighting power of the earth masters is satisfactorily small. “Look Inside” has been a part of martial arts films for so long that it fits right in with it Mortal Kombat, which begins with a bang of a complicated, brutal fight scene and ends with another equally impressive portrayal of assistant fight choreographer Anthony Rinna and fight coordinator Chan Griffin. In the middle, Mortal Kombat gets a little confused: The pace is slightly different, the required part of the training drags on and there are some dialog clunkers. (“You have been chosen to fight for the earth!” “There is nothing for you here, only death!”) But in terms of the elements that are most important for a film of this type and line, Mortal Kombat rises to the challenge.
The film begins in the 17th century when the idyllic life of the Japanese warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is interrupted by the reluctant assassin Bi-Han (Joe Taslim). Subtitles then inform the audience about the Mortal Kombat tournament between the oppositional Earthrealm and Outworld. If the earth loses another showdown, the planet will fall to the savage rulers, monsters and champions of the outside world who will enslave humanity. The final complicating factor: a prophecy claims that a new group of ground fighters will be united by Hanzo’s blood. This proposal revives the rivalry between the wizard of the outside world, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), and the god of thunder Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), who in the years between tournaments has the task of defending the earth from the forces of the outside world .
Today, stranded MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is approached by Jax (Mehcad Brooks), a member of the Special Forces service who pays special attention to the dragon-shaped birthmark on Cole’s chest. From time to time Cole has visions and dreams of a fiery figure approaching him from Hell – and the weirdness of this image is surpassed by an attack on Cole and his family by the Outworld villain Sub-Zero, who controls and can control ice manipulate. This argument leads Cole to Jax’s Special Forces colleague Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who informs him of the enmity between Earthrealm and Outworld. “You spelled it wrong!” is Cole’s moaning reaction to Sonya’s explanation of the interstellar duel. But when a gigantic humanoid lizard tries to kill her, Cole is on board.
Cole, Sonya and the Australian mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) are faster than the acid spit of the evil warrior Reptile can burn a hole through human flesh and are on their way to Raiden’s temple to train as earth masters. Who you meet there and what you learn about your “Arcana” – the secret motivators that activate and fuel your superpowers – takes more time than Mortal Kombat imperative, but it also gives any character a chance in the spotlight.
As cousins Liu Kang and Kung Lao, actors Ludi Lin and Max Huang are double replicas of their video game avatars. Kudos to costume designer Cappi Ireland for her interpretation of her 2D outfits. Outside of aesthetics, however, they impact the former’s dull sincerity and the latter’s dead sarcasm, both of which spark against Lawson’s pleasantly psychotic Kano. Tan, McNamee and Brooks are the most straightforward “good” characters in the film, and use their broad-shouldered physicality to communicate upright morals.
But they’re not sticks: McNamees Sonya clearly takes a lot of pleasure in “accidentally” stabbing the irritating Kano in the leg with his own dagger, and Tans Cole comes to life when his character takes on a specific multi-armed monster. And on the bad guys side, Kabal (played by Daniel Nelson and voiced by Damon Herriman) should be a fan favorite for his smug self-esteem, while the incredibly talented Han accomplishes the impossible task of making Shang Tsung’s soul-sucking look regal and foreboding.
Which brings up the most important element of all Mortal Kombat Adaptation: the fights! The film’s R-rating makes a living from the film’s technical flourishes: the unsettling sound of a dagger crunching on bones; the harrowing beauty of blood and rain mingled on petals and leaves; the laughing rudeness of a beating heart drawn from someone’s chest. The key here is tone and Mortal Kombat is thoughtful about it. That first fight with Sanada and Taslim is the heaviest emotionally in the film, and the stake of the well shot and well processed clash continues into the rest of Mortal Kombat.
And this is a smart decision: McQuoid has the amusingly despicable Kano deliver some of the silliest grotesques and treats the death movements of the Earth Masters with a combination of amazement and catharsis. That might be a strange observation about a movie that equates the explosion of a skull with a moment of personal liberation. But that violence has always been a central part of Mortal Kombatand this restart is successful because McQuoid and his team remember it and have the confidence to acknowledge it. It’s not a flawless victory, but it’s fun with lizard brains.
Mortal Kombat opens in theaters on April 23 and runs exclusively on HBO Max through May 24. Polygon recommends checking out before going to a theater our guide to local theater safety.