As a former casual gamer who hasn’t touched a controller in years, when I heard a new Mortal Kombat movie was coming I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I only remember playing a Mortal Kombat game a handful of times back in the 90s, and I never saw either of the previous film adaptations. Still, I was intrigued, and so I set out to answer a simple question: is this movie worth my time if I know next to nothing about Mortal Kombat?
The answer is complicated, and requires some followup questions:
- How badly are you missing the movie theater? (assuming you can safely return at this point)
- How averse are you to extreme violence?
- How long can you tolerate hand-to-hand combat?
- How important is plot to you?
That last question is partially a joke, but it raises an important point. Now that movie theaters are becoming a safe option again after we’ve been collectively deprived of them for so long, spectacle feels like a valid reason to see a film. That was certainly the case for the recent Godzilla vs. Kong; it was heavy on spectacle, light on believable human interaction, and did pretty great numbers at the box office, all things considered. Compared to Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat is a bit stronger in the script department, though both films are markedly better when the dialogue stops and the punching starts.
Mortal Kombat follows Cole, an MMA fighter who discovers he’s been chosen as one of earth’s champions in an inter-dimensional tournament called, you guessed it, Mortal Kombat. The beats of the story are pretty familiar. He trains, he struggles, he improves, good versus evil, et cetera, et cetera. Along the way he meets a variety of interesting characters all connected to the tournament, while the leader of the evil realm tries to wipe Earth off the map…. or something. The details are a little fuzzy. But remember, we aren’t watching this for the plot.
The action in Mortal Kombat is nothing if not extreme. One of the few things I do remember from the video game was the level of gore, and that carries through to this film adaptation. The amount of blood rivals Kill Bill and there are more entrails on-screen than in some zombie films I’ve seen. If you can stomach all that, you’ll have a great time with the many, many combat scenes. They’re fast, they’re creative, and they’re quite thrilling.
And while the human drama of Mortal Kombat isn’t its strong suit, surprisingly enough I did feel emotionally invested during some of the climactic fight scenes. The mythology around all the fighting is pretty sparse, but the movie gives you just enough to hook you in.
The best video game movie adaptations don’t attempt to stay faithful to a particular story, but rather try to capture the images, the characters, and the feelings of the source material. The recent Sonic the Hedgehog movie did this well. Don’t give me a Sonic storyline from one of the games, just capture the Sonic vibe and convert it into movie form. That’s what Mortal Kombat does too. I don’t know or care about the story of the original video games or previous film adaptations, I just know this movie gave me Mortal Kombat-style action, characters, and settings packaged into a pretty solid, if a bit silly, action movie.
So, is this worth watching if you know nothing about Mortal Kombat? The answer is a “yes, if…”
Yes, if you just want a mostly mindless action movie. Yes, if you’ve been dying to get back in a theater for a good “big screen” movie. Yes, if blood and guts aren’t an issue for you.
Don’t get stuck on plot holes or cheesy dialogue, just sit back and enjoy the big, bloody spectacle.
Mortal Kombat is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.