A few years ago, the accepted wisdom was that video games don’t make good movies. You could point to Street Fighter, Super Movie Bros, Hitman, Need For Speed, Assassin’s Creed, or any number of flops that failed to capture the magic of their pixelated inspiration. In the last few years, however, the code seems to have been cracked.
Tomb Raider was a solid reinvention of Lara Croft, Dwayne Johnson actioner Rampage brought arcade madness to the big screen, while animated adventures Sonic The Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu were huge hits. The latter two in particular were not just good for video game movies, they were good full stop.
As with any success, the floodgates have opened for imitators. Films based on Uncharted, Minecraft, and Metal Gear Solid are leading the charge, and even 2000s Wii favourite Just Dance is being adapted. This week it’s the turn of Mortal Kombat, the 90s Beat-em-Up classic. It’s the third studio film based on the game, following the actually-not-that-bad 1995 version and the actually-not-that-good Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in 1997.
This time the plot is centred around the titular fighting tournament between warring realms. The villainous Outworld has beaten Earthrealm (that’s us) in nine previous tournaments, with a tenth victory allowing Outworld to conquer us once and for all. Their leader, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), secretly sends his warriors to Earthrealm to find and kill their champions, fighters from around the globe with powers they don’t know they possess. With his family at risk, MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) finds sorcerer Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and must discover his own power before it’s too late.
There’s a lot of lore thrown at you, but think of it as a multi-dimensional Rocky. A group of human fighters have a short amount of time to discover their powers before a big fight with the bad guys. Produced by Aquaman’s James Wan and directed by Simon McQuoid (who comes from a commercial background), the effects and cinematography are tremendous. The world of the game really comes to life, particularly in the well-choreographed, very gory battles. If you’ve come looking for a fight, you’re in the right place.
If you’re looking for substance, not so much. The concept is inherently silly, and no matter how seriously Tan and his co-stars deliver their lines, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. It’s not helped when phrases from the game (“Flawless Victory!”, “Fatality!”) are awkwardly wedged into the fight scene dialogue. Thank the gods, then, for Aussie star Josh Lawson. He plays Kano, a loudmouth mercenary who cuts through the po faced moments with a childish insult or dated cultural reference.
The rest of the cast do their best with their melodramatic parts. Tan is a likeable hero, while Jessica McNamee’s Sonya Blade and Mehcad Brooks’ Jax are suitably macho support. Asano and Chin Han look to be having the most fun, making grand declarations about the fate of the universe. The best moments are between the excellently pitched Sub Zero (Joe Taslim) and rival Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), with a subplot that would have been the main focus in a braver film.
Those in search of bloody, bonkers escapism will be well served by Mortal Kombat, which hits the right nostalgic notes and makes the most of the advances in special effects. It’s cinematic fast food that will be just the ticket for the right audience.
Mortal Kombat is available on demand from 6th May.