‘Mortal Kombat’ Review: Battered and Bloody

The appeal of the video game Mortal Kombat (and its Coke-Pepsi rival Street Fighter) was combining the characters in different smackdowns. But trying to construct a plot that links them is a fatal trap. The cheesy “Mortal Kombat” (1995), from the future “Resident Evil” director Paul W.S. Anderson, proved as much, and now there is “Mortal Kombat” (2021), directed by Simon McQuoid, a snazzier, marginally more coherent movie that features a less catchy version of the techno theme song. (The backbeat, like the screenplay, is peppered with catchphrases from the game: “Test … your might.”)

The 21st-century “Mortal Kombat” begins in 17th-century Japan, where a great warrior, Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), is vanquished and his wife and son killed. Less comes of this than you might expect. Flash forward to the present and Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a cage fighter whose telltale birthmark destines him to compete in a tournament called Mortal Kombat. (“They spelled it wrong,” he observes.) Before representing “Earthrealm” against Outworld, “the most brutal and murderous of all the realms,” he and similarly branded comrades must uncover their inner superpowers.

But with so many characters, the movie spends too much time on discovery and not enough on showing those powers in action. Personally, I wanted more payoff from Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) dodging Kano (Josh Lawson) and his laser eye, but you can choose your fighters and feel shortchanged accordingly. While the carnage demonstrates some imagination (can ice cauterize wounds? Did a hat just turn into a table saw?), the rules, extending even to whether death is permanent, are so arbitrary that nothing matters. Test … your patience.

Mortal Kombat
Rated R. See title. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters and on HBO Max. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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