A Midway Games’ video game classic gets a level up courtesy Warner Bros, producer James Wan and the rarely-captured patio of South Australia.
Based on the video game franchise of the same name created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, “Mortal Kombat” reboots the universe first introduced in cinema back in 1995 – complete with an imaginative new plot that catches up with the game’s vast array of fighters on day zero of their well-known jam.
An impressive, tension-doused opening set in 17th Century Japan sees a group of assassins, led by the villainous Bi-Han/Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), attack and kill members of a rival ninja gang, including Hanzo Hasahi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) wife and son. Hanzo defeats the attackers before falling victim to Bi-Han.
Cut to modern day. MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) discovers the tattoo he dons actually represents his impending participation in a match between Earth and the Outworld. With the gruff Kano (Josh Lawson) and kick-ass war vet Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Cole seeks solace at the temple of magic-man Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).
It’s there inside the temple that fighters, like Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), prep to protect Earth against the deadly thugs of the Outworld.
It all culminates in a skirmish between good and evil, with Hanzo/Scorpion and Bi-Han/Scorpion at the forefront.
Tyro director Simon McQuoid‘s film is essentially the offshoot training level, the side scuffle where powers are tested and skills are honed before the big match. The big match, if the trilogy rumours are accurate, is the end game.
While Lewis Tan, oozing screen presence as Cole, and Josh Lawson, providing sublime light relief as the brutish Kano, are the MVPs of the fleshy props, the real stars of “Mortal Kombat” are the production designers. Taking a page out of the “Mad Max” movies, the sandier parts of Australia have been turned into fantastical cave hideouts, underworld temples and never-ending desert. Coupled with the overworked offerings of the effects and fight crews, the look brings the wild world of Mortal Kombat to life in grand style.
The plot, while effective, is rather reedy and there’s nothing very deep on offer here but If a campy, testosterone-fueled “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” meets “Saw” sounds like your bag, you’ll have the time of your life here. From brilliant choreographed, gore-tinted fights to fan-pleasing callbacks and references, it’s a time portal to the year we all turned 16.
As far as film adaptations of video games go, “Mortal Kombat” is a flawless victory.