[Screen It]


(2021) (Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee) (R)

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Action: A diverse group of fighters are brought together to save Earth from being enslaved by evil forces.

More than four centuries after Bi-Han (JOE TASLIM) murdered Hanzo Hasashi (HIROYUKI SANADA) and most of his family, MMA fighter Cole Young (LEWIS TAN) is oblivious to his connection to that event or that he might be the only hope for humankind on Earth. And that's because Bi-Han, now known as Sub-Zero, works for sorcerer Shang Tsung (CHIN HAN) of the Outworld realm.

Having defeated Earthrealm nine times in the Mortal Kombat tournaments, Shang Tsung knows that a tenth victory means he'll be able to conquer Earthrealm and enslave its inhabitants. To improve his odds, he's sent the likes of Sub-Zero and others to kill all of Earthrealm's fighters before the tournament and thus ensure his victory.

Cole -- married to Alison (LAURA BRENT) and father to Emily (MATILDA KIMBER) -- is pulled into this battle when Sub-Zero shows up to kill him, only to be saved by Special Forces op Jax (MEHCAD BROOKS) who tells him to get his family to safety and then seek out Sonya Blade (JESSICA McNAMEE). Cole does just that and discovers that she's also a Special Forces op who currently has Aussie criminal Kano (JOSH LAWSON) as her prisoner, what with trying to figure out anything and everything related to Mortal Kombat. And with Cole sporting a dragon birthmark, that means he's meant to be involved.

The three then travel to a hidden temple to meet Lord Raiden (TADANOBU ASANO) and the few fighters left at his disposal, cousins Liu Kang (LUDI LIN) and Kung Lao (MAX HUANG) and the now armless Jax, in hopes of helping Cole find his special power or arcana. But with Shang Tsung sending his warriors including Sub-Zero, Mileena (SISI STRINGER), Nitara (MEL JARNSON), Reiko (NATHAN JONES), and Kabal (DANIEL NELSON) to kill them, the diverse group of fighters must use what skills they have to try to defeat them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

I was a first-generation video game kid from first seeing Pong at Sears to dumping lots of quarters into arcade games and then spending larger amounts of money to get game cartridges for my Atari 2600 system. Of course, back then games were pretty primitive and a far cry from today's complex and near photo-realistic offerings.

They were also fairly benign when it came to violence. While today's kids are blasting human characters, monsters, and more in first-person shooter games, my kills were asteroids, space invaders, incoming missiles, and appetizing dots and occasional ghosts in a maze.

I then grew up and away from games, but the games grew up as well, with one of the most notable being "Mortal Kombat" back in 1992. A fantasy fighting game, its level of violence -- while tame by today's standards -- was controversial at the time, mainly due to the ability to finish off an already conquered opponent in various gruesome ways. All of which helped, in part, lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

A movie adaptation then came out in 1995 which I never saw, but apparently didn't maintain that level of violence based on its PG-13 rating. A sequel came out two years later (which I did review -- not favorably) and then the series ended.

Now, nearly a quarter-century later, we have a reboot of the franchise, albeit this time reinserting and doubling down with the gruesome violence, all of which (along with plenty of F-bombs) definitely earns its hard R rating. While plenty of the titular characters were blasted back when I was playing "Space Invaders," I don't recall any graphically being cut in half, having cantaloupe-sized holes blasted through their chests, or having their heads squashed like one of those cantaloupes in a vice.

While I never played the game (and thus have zero vested interest in the story or characters) and don't think the violence (and the rest of the overall material) is campy or clever enough to make it so over the top that it's fun (like occurs in the "John Wick" flicks), I'm guessing diehard fans of the game will likely be in kombat heaven.

As directed by Simon McQuoid from a script by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, the flick begins with an action-prologue set four centuries ago where an assassin, Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), kills a warrior (Hiroyuki Sanada) and most of his family. We then fast forward to the present where flailing MMA fighter Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan as a new character addition to the series) is quickly thrust into this universe after he manages to avoid being killed by Bi-Han -- now for some reason renamed Sub-Zero.

He then teams up with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and her prisoner Kano (Josh Lawson, in the crude and rude comic relief role) and set off to a hidden temple to train with Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and his sparse collection of fighters, cousins Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Sonya's Special Ops partner, Jax (Mehcad Brooks), who's recovering from Sub-Zero having frozen and broken off his arms.

For those in the dark just like me, the general plot thrust is that a Mortal Kombat tournament is routinely held featuring fighters from different worlds and where ten victories mean one can conquer and enslave the other. The leader of the Outworld realm, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), wants to cheat his way to victory and thus has his assassin minions killing off the competition ahead of time.

Thus, it's up to Cole to discover his special power and then help save the day. All of which means lots and lots of fighting and associated gruesome kills. That might appease and please those diehard fans, but it's unlikely going to make converts out of anyone else or even just entertain them.

I realize they're different sorts of cinematic beasts, but this feels like the B squad compared to the "Avengers" flicks, while the likes of those "John Wick" pics or the more recent "Nobody" manage to transcend the genre with their highly stylized, over-the-top violent action. Then again, those also feature uniquely charismatic anti-heroes, where the array offered up here never achieves that level of engaging coolness.

Then there's the fact that the pivotal tournament -- where humankind's future lies in the balance and that is discussed at various intervals -- never occurs. I guess that's up to the sequel, or maybe the third or fourth film should the revamped series make it that far. By then, it will really only be the diehard fans as this offering isn't likely to have the rest of us hankering for more head smashing, bodies cut in half, and so on. "Mortal Kombat" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 21, 2021 / Posted April 23, 2021

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