Real ’90s kids know “Mortal Kombat,” and real ’90s kids truly appreciate “Mortal Kombat.” That techno beat drops, that guy screams “mortal kombat!” and it’s like we’re back at the arcade hammering sticky buttons in order to “finish him!” as 8-bit blood spurts in pixelated bursts.
The goofy but lovable 1995 movie adaptation, directed by maximalist action auteur Paul W.S. Anderson, was the entertainment for many pizza-fueled sleepovers, so if there’s one audience a remake has to please, it’s the ’90s kids (who are pushing 40 now). Somehow, director Simon McQuoid, in his feature directorial debut, has managed to update the film while also capturing that silly, digital-blood soaked magic.
There are certain things a “Mortal Kombat” remake simply must not be without: the characters of Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Kano (Josh Lawson), Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and a certain four-armed nemesis are nonnegotiables. Liu Kang should have a sweet mullet, and there should be many “fatalities.” Check, check, check.
But screenwriters Greg Russo, Dave Callaham and Oren Uziel have created a new champion who is impelled to enter the Mortal Kombat tournament on behalf of the Earthrealm. Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a struggling MMA fighter with a young family and brawling for a couple of hundred bucks when he is scooped up by Jax, who has clocked the strange dragon marking on his chest.
With the chillingly immortal Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) in pursuit, Cole accepts the destiny that Jax and Sonya claim is his, and so it’s off to the realm of Lord Raiden for the supernatural martial arts tournament to save the world. Cole sets to training at the hands of Liu Kang and Kung Lao, attempting to unlock his secret superpowers deep within his soul and informed by an auspicious heritage.
This new “Mortal Kombat” is obviously a step up from the original in terms of effects and locations, but it also feels like a bigger film in its lore and indeed the actual combat. McQuoid, who made his reputation in commercials, including a “Star Wars”-themed Duracell Super Bowl spot, can certainly stage an action scene.
While the sets are nothing like the over-the-top wonders of Anderson’s film, cinematographer Germain McMicking captures the fight scenes in fluid camera movements, allowing the audience to see the unbroken action of the fights between legendary screen martial artists like Taslim (“The Raid: Redemption”) and Hiroyuki Sanada (“Royal Warriors”). Every punch, kick, leg sweep and spine rip is presented in all its gory beauty for the audience to enjoy. That’s why we’re here, right?
Some of the acting is a bit wooden, but it’s a video game movie and hearkens to some of the endearing lo-fi qualities of the original film. Plus, there’s space for actors like Lawson to really play. As the bawdy mercenary Kano, the script lets him rip, and he just about steals the whole movie. Lin and Max Huang as Kung Lao are also standouts.
There will certainly be quibbles to be found, especially for die-hard fans, in casting and costume and what’s missing. One major oversight is that the theme song, an updated version of “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)” by the Immortals, is used sparingly, although Benjamin Wallfisch’s score does reference it. But if you embrace that inner child, high on sugar and eye-popping violence, “Mortal Kombat” proves to be, while not quite a “flawless victory,” a fun one nevertheless.
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