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Mortal Kombat 2021 film review: Even the kombat is krap

·3-min read
 (Warner Bros)
(Warner Bros)

I reckon I’ve solved the mystery of why Warners’ much-hyped martial arts fantasy blockbuster isn’t getting a cinema release in the UK. Inspired by the legendary video games and part of a mega-franchise, this reboot of the film series is full of f-bombs and gore. It will intrigue, if not entirely satisfy, the army of adult MK devotees who spend several hours a day on their consoles and know and relish every cheesy line of dialogue from the 1995 movie starring Christopher Lambert. But, as recent US box office receipts show, that army is limited in size. Why waste money on a big screen release when there’s so much moolah to be made simply by allowing a key demographic – tweens and young teens – to watch it at home?

For form’s sake, let me fill you in on the plot, which serves up an entirely new character, an MMA fighter with a mysterious birthmark, Cole Young (Lewis Tan).

As Cole is about to discover, his world aka Earthrealm is under threat, thanks to an ongoing beef between two supernatural beings, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), god of thunder and lightning, and Shang Tsung (Chin Han), a soul-guzzling geezer in charge of a knackered old planet, Outworld.

Back in 1617, Tsung’s top henchman, Bi-Han/Sub-Zero (wonderful Joe Taslim from The Raid) killed the family of wholesome ninja Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada: fab). Raiden stepped in and saved the baby girl. Might Cole be one of her descendants? Elite military officer, Jax (Mehcad Brooks) certainly thinks so. With Sub-Zero now targeting Cole and his family, it’s up to Jax’s sterling colleague Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), along with unreliable Australian Kano (Josh Lawson), to escort Cole to a temple where two monks will help him train for the fight of his life.

There are some excellent actors in this movie. Unfortunately, Tan’s not one of them. Even the aforementioned baby delivers a more layered performance. To be fair, the lines the 34 year-old Brit has to deliver are terrible. But Tan’s the problem. He’s krap.

So is McQuoid’s direction. During the fights, we can’t appreciate what the actors’ bodies are doing, because the camera is too close and the edits fussy. The production design is shonky.

Josh Lawson’s Kano is by far the best thing in the filmWarner Bros
Josh Lawson’s Kano is by far the best thing in the filmWarner Bros

The film is watchable for three reasons: the death scenes (one involving a giant tablesaw is awesome); the enjoyably distracting costumes (Liu Kang looks like his fashion god is Duran Duran’s John Taylor; I’m all for killing machines with big hair and cinched waists); and, last but not least, Kano.

Kano’s schtick can be summed up thus: fight, curse, quip, repeat. Yet he’s genuinely diverting. Cleverly, Lawson plays Kano as a grizzled, culturally-savvy, salt of the earth hero. Kano is working on a graphic novel. Kano tells the monks to “take turns sucking my sack”, and makes it sound more like an invitation that a threat. Yes, he’s a psychopath. But as scumbags go, he’s great value.

McQuoid’s film offers lashings of violence and where’s the harm in that? So does The Aeneid, but no one accuses Virgil of serving up torture porn. It’s ultimately a disappointment because Cole’s emotional journey is uninvolving.

At one point, Cole is told, “Give the people a good show or they won’t stick around.” There’s gunky fun to be had, here, but with a hole at the heart of the story, this show doesn’t deserve to go on.

110mins, cert 15. Available to rent on demand

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