Perth native Simon McQuoid has delivered a fittingly gory R-rated blockbuster with Mortal Kombat. Navigating the sweet spot between fun and loosely grounded, fans of the video game franchise will delight in the characters, choreography and violent dispatches one would expect from the iconic video game property that has been making parents nervous since 1992.
The tale is simple and familiar to those already inducted: the rulers of an evil and warmongering realm known as Outworld need only to win one more tournament known as Mortal Kombat, in order to invade Earth Realm… for some reason. Not content to win things fair and square, formidable combatants are sent to kill off any potential Earth Realm contenders before they can realise their potential and thwart their plans.
Even those who have a patchy engagement with Mortal Kombat across the board share affection for common and lasting cultural markers and there are no shortage of those here – from the disembodied voice yelling “Mmooortal Kombaaaaat,” the striking theme music Techno Syndrome by The Immortals, to the demonic voices announcing “Fatality” and “Flawless Victory.” There are also likely many out there who can still recall their favourite special move of their favoured fighter, regardless of how long ago they last picked up the controller (Scorpion: Back, Back, Low Punch).
Director Simon McQuoid wisely alludes to most of these little micro hits of nostalgia without bogging down the movie, and there is a greater authenticity demonstrated in sharing an understanding of the gaming experience. The best example being a moment with Josh Lawson’s excellent Kano squaring off against Max Huang’s Kung Lao which celebrates the evil art of “spamming” a move. Josh Lawson brings the most fun to this movie, second only to the glorious, ridiculous violence.
Notorious Video Game Adapting, B-grade director Paul WS Anderson first tackled Mortal Kombat in 1995 by transplanting the relatively small roster of Mortal Kombat characters onto the template of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. The plot here is once again designed to showcase fight scenes and character introductions with little to bog it down, this time a little more efficiently. Instead of a steady course of “Fight, Exposition, Fight, Exposition, Repeat,” the proceedings are more elaborate, with multiple duels edited into a scene, and story developments cooking simultaneously. It’s not groundbreaking stuff in itself, but more of a product of a generation of filmmaking which seems more fluent in the modern cinematic language.
Roger Ebert once compared Jackie Chan films to Fred Astaire films: the plot and acting are forgiven in all departments, because they only exist to showcase the talent of the physical performances. In this case, those exceptionally choreographed physical performances are enhanced with the spectacle of some wonderful visual effects buoyed by inspired filmmaking choices. There are some genuinely nicely planned shots slipped in consistently, and the production design and backdrops are effectively merged to bring alien landscapes to life. Ice, frost and fire effects ground the fantasy with familiarity, whilst also making allowances for wacky eye lasers.
Much like the blockbusting darling of the pandemic, Godzilla Vs Kong, one’s enjoyment of Mortal Kombat really lies within the willingness to check your brain at the door to indulge in some good old-fashioned fun and nonsense. Australian films such as The Dry and Penguin Bloom have performed well during/post lockdown whilst the big loud tentpole films such as this were strategically locked away, but it has been great to have these raucous fun and accessible bringers-of-bums-to-seats finally start rolling in again, even if it’s just to give a financial boost to cinemas who have been in hibernation mode.
Checking out Mortal Kombat isn’t a terrible way to get yourself back in a cinema if you haven’t already done so. It’s the Mortal Kombat that a 12 year old would have wanted back in 1995, but wouldn’t have been allowed to see.