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'Mortal Kombat' Review: Bloody Simple

The CGI isn’t great, half the sets look like spray-painted styrofoam, and the tournament the characters spend the entire movie talking about never happens and appears to have no structure, set location, or administrative body attached to it, but all in all Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat is a pretty good time. Where else are you going to see a guy bisect a demonic harpy woman using his hat as a rotary saw, or watch the cruelly handsome Subzero (Joe Taslim) get flame-throwered by a demon ninja from literal hell? In short, it’s stupid fun without pretension or unnecessary exposition. It drops the famous theme from the 1992 video game (The Immortals’ “Techno Syndrome”) right after Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) flicks his signature kunai-on-a-rope through a man’s chest, the kind of solid genre sting (no pun intended) that aims for fun as much as a referential “hey, it’s that thing we all know!” thrill.

Not that the movie isn’t well-larded with that kind of reference. There’s a gleeful Kano (Josh Lawson) holding up a slaughtered Reptile’s heart and declaring “Kano wins!”, Kung Lao’s (Max Huang) cutely delivered “Flawless victory” after the aforementioned hat fatality, and innumerable other easter eggs and shout-outs. Sometimes it plays, sometimes it’s a little corny, but there’s never any sense that McQuoid is taking any of it too seriously. There’s no dancing around the characters’ goofy names, no replacing their costumes with tactical body armor, no attempt to make the movie anything but what it is: a bunch of indifferently-explicated supernatural kung fu guys murdering each other over the fate of the world. 

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On the subject of gore, Mortal Kombat could use more of it. “Not violent enough” may seem an odd complaint when it comes to the video game that outraged millions of suburban parents with its spectacles of four-armed mutants ripping people’s spines out and frozen bodies shattered by precision punches, but when the movie isn’t shredding skin and pumping quarts of CGI blood onto the sand it chugs along indifferently, sustained largely by Taslim’s dominating presence and Ludi Lin’s charm as the earnest and outlandishly handsome Liu Kang. Jessica McNamee doesn’t bring much to the part of Sonya Blade, a kind of supernumerary fish out of water next to Cole Young, a shopworn archetype played with serviceable integrity and focus by Lewis Tan. 

Cinematographer Germain McMicking does largely unimpressive work, combining shaky cam and low-angle shots of fighters trading punches to render the film’s solid choreography murky and occasionally unintelligible. Still, when the camera pulls back to showcase the dismal-looking interior of lightning god Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple, which resembles nothing so much as a Power Rangers soundstage, one can understand why McMicking prefers to stay close. In the end, though, the uneven craftsmanship behind Mortal Kombat’s technical elements only slightly diminishes the giddy fun of its throwdowns and grisly executions. Like the unfortunate behemoth Goro (Angus Sampson), no matter how big and clumsy it gets at times, in the end it goes down easy.

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