Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Mel Jarnson, Nathan Jones, Daniel Nelson, Ian Streetz, Yukiko Shinohara
Written by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham, based on a story by Greg Russo, Oren Uziel
Directed by: Simon McQuoid
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude references
Running Time: 110
Date: 04/23/2021

Mortal Kombat (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Flashy Klash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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.

The movie 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.

To be honest, 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 ten battles with the Outworld realm (the bad guys).

Apparently nine battles have already 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, if anyone, referees.

The tenth battle is looming, but what occurs in the movie is not an "official" battle, but rather 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 dumb problems like these, and just gets on with it.

The hero of the movie 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), 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 is one of those characters that has a wall full of charts and photos and clippings, and she has somehow 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.

It might be noted that the movie is nicely diverse, with an Asian man, a white woman, and a Black man serving as 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 such nonsense. They are stuck with the worst of the dialogue, and are often blanketed in a bluish-gray tint, making their scenes tragically boring.

That said, when the blood-spattered action starts, it is quite impressive. The director is Simon McQuoid, making his feature directing debut right out of a career in commercials, which sounds like a recipe for disaster, but actually works.

The opening sequence, which takes place in 17th century Japan and sets 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 all 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.

An opening like that makes us sit up and pay attention, and subsequent fights — each of which has something of 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.

Truthfully, Mortal Kombat is about as shallow as a movie can possibly get, and it has very little point. But as a purely physical experience, in terms of giving viewers that little adrenaline rush, and that feeling of tensing up and maybe feeling like we, too, are about to join the fight, it works like krazy.

The Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. has an above-average audio and video transfer, with optional subtitles, plus digital copy. Bonuses include deleted scenes (4 minutes), and several featurettes, on the transition from game to movie, the characters, the choreography, Easter Eggs, etc., enough to make fans happy.

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