It is campy. It is cheesy. It is OTT.
And it is an apt tribute to its campy, cheesy arcade game origins.
The latest film version of Mortal Kombat is a fan service affair, with that requisite fight between fan favorites Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Film is infinitely bloodier but no less campy than the 1995 film version, but fans of the game (like this writer) would enjoy it for the homage to the cheesy catchphrases (“Kano wins!” , “Flawless victory!”) down to the origin stories of the characters.
Film starts in 17th century Japan, where assassins led by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) attack rival clan led by Hanzo Hashashi (the divine Hiroyuki Sanada). The first scene thematically channels old Samurai/Western film tropes of revenge (retired veteran fighter gets roused out of retirement and forced to fight after entire family is massacred).
Unfortunately, Hashashi himself was killed, his soul dragged in the nether realms.
Meanwhile, an evil overlord called Shang Tsung (played with smarmy relish by Chin Han) had ordered the murder of Earth’s champions for the death match called Mortal Kombat (with a K) apparently because of a prophecy that one of Hashashi’s descendants will restore the balance in the force. Or something like that.
Film quickly switches gears and transports us somewhere in the US, where we meet MMA fighter Cole Young who, we quickly learn, is really a descendant of the Hashashi clan and is thus prime target for the Shang Tsung’s assassin-in-command Sub-Zero formerly known as Bi-Han.
That was the premise of the film. Does it make much sense? Nope. But sense is not something you are looking for in film that is based off a game franchise that is basically just two characters beating each other senseless until “(INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE) wins.”
It good ol’ bloody camp and the actors are in on it.
Stand out of course is Sanada who channels Hashashi-turned-Scorpion with as much gravitas as Kurosawa character. Cheese pervades scene after scene as familiar characters like Sonya Blade, Jax, Raiden (RAIDEN!), Liu Kang, Kung Lao and Goro (GORO!!!) basically just appear to show off their powers – or, okay, arcana – as they beat each other senseless all while mouthing Kombat catchphrases like “Flawless victory!”
Is it better than the 1995 film? Definitely. And it’s gorier too (see Kung Lao’s razor-brimmed hat doing its nasty work in one scene to get what I mean).
It is not high art, but then that is not what the film was for, and helmer Simom McQuoid knows that all too well.
Film has a lot of winks at the game, including a nice lampshade-hanging by Cole Young (Lewis Tan) as he points out earlier to Sonya Blade (Kylie Minogue look-alike Jessica McNamee) how the word “combat” in a wall scribbling was misspelled.
All in all, it is solid entertainment, with a really loose storyline that only serves as an excuse for the characters to show their skills in (k)ombat.
And for fans of the video game arcade, that is enough.