Mortal Kombat (dir. Simon McQuoid, 2021) – Earth’s chosen champions stand against the warriors of Outworld in a battle for the universe.
If there is any movie that I’d defend to the ends of the Earthrealm, Mortal Kombat would be it. Yes. 1995, Paul W. S. Anderson, that Mortal Kombat. Even the sequel that you’d call abysmal. Jade isn’t even my birth name. I had adopted it from the very movies that I watched weekly as a kid, until my VHS tapes finally unspooled.
From that to console games and the bloody cool MK: Legacy, my love for the franchise lives on. That only means high hopes for the remake, with my nostalgia demanding an equally charismatic cast and the same genuine reverence for martial arts. Fortunately, the new Mortal Kombat knows exactly what it is doing.
It begins with a bold move – having a new face front the show. MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) marks the unknown name in the ring, bearing a birthmark that invokes unprovoked wrath from the Outworld. Ruthless in his means to end the lineage of Earthrealm’s chosen ones, sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) raises a brutal army, led by the daunting Elder Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim).
Against the stone cold killers, Young finds his own allies in special forces pair Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), plus their reluctant prisoner Kano (Josh Lawson). Together, they seek out the God of Thunder Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and his warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), who guide the gang to master their arcana.
It has always been about the characters when it comes to a game like Mortal Kombat, where large majority of the plot adds up to mere excuses for fights. Their neat moves and classic regalia are most of what make them charming and their violent brawls gripping.
As fans wait in anticipation for their iconic signature strikes, the cast has their work cut out for them. But they manage to bring the varied personalities alive effortlessly, living up to some great expectations. Respecting the material, they tackle the potentially cheesy one-liners that cannot be done without, aided by a great sense of humour. And it has to be said – they look good doing it too.
Joe Taslim as Bi-han plays an especially compelling villain. One with a cause, his commanding presence is coupled with an impressive aesthetic upgrade to his armour. In just the first 10 minutes, his waging war against legendary Shirai Ryu ninja Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is already easily one of the best scenes in the movie.
Their steel garb matches up to the visual awe of the fight choreography. There are the brutal, superpowered, and fatal moves, faithful to the games and refined by cinematic magic. But beyond CG-enhanced gore, the real stunner lies in the stunts. Plenty of opportunities for hand-to-hand combat allowed the actors to flaunt their genuine mastery of martial arts.
Standing amidst the classic heroes that most know by name, Young doesn’t suffer the lack of established credibility as feared. His story is, in contrast to the mystical warriors around him, grounded. Defending the Earth is noble, but his reasons are more personal. As he fights to protect his family, he shows his worth as a father, husband, and warrior, earning his rightful place.
Unfortunately, his lead presence means diminished roles for the classic characters of Liu Kang and Kung Lao, who deserve much more than playing motivational coaches to Young. The absence of cameos is an added shame, for who wouldn’t have loved to see Robin Shou on screen again.
But that matters little for those who would recognise the heart that the cast and crew have put into the movie to tell the story right. It is truly made for the fans. A global cast also ensured the right representation so rarely accomplished, and the efforts paid back for the film’s international marketing during this no-fly pandemic.
In the grand scheme of things, the flaws are easy to forgive. Besides, it has only just begun. The tournament still awaits, and there is no escaping the heart-pounding excitement for more when Benjamin Wallfisch finally unleashes those familiar rousing notes of Techno Syndrome.
A charismatic cast of martial artists perfectly embodies the iconic characters and gives Mortal Kombat the due rebirth that fans have been waiting for.