Mortal Kombat (2021)

Simon McQuoid

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent

Since the first game's release in 1992, the Mortal Kombat franchise has remained a part of popular culture. The success expanded from games into a pair of 90s films, a short film, a web-series, and an animated film. Now, a reboot has been released, this time following MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan). He's hunted by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), an ice-wielding warrior sent by Outworld's Emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Crossing paths with Special Forces operatives Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Cole discovers he's one of many chosen to defend Earthrealm against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

Key to the franchise is the blood-soaked violence, a factor which is faithfully replicated here. Spines may not be ripped out, yet there's still decent action gruesomely delivered, as a heart is torn out, and a hat is used as a buzzsaw. With such wacky inclusions faithful to the source material, it's odd the proceedings feel muted by a gritty and serious tone, more keen to poke fun at the title than have fun. Perhaps this is why Josh Lawson is the standout, as Kano provides some much needed levity.

There's an odd balancing act in play, as the film delivers fan-service while trying to be something rather different. It avoids the well-known structure, with the famed tournament not occurring, while fan-favourite characters are treated as lip-service, fighting in uninteresting locations. Most odd is how, of all the characters to make the lead, the creators opted for a bland new creation. No disrespect to Lewis Tan, he isn't given much to work with when the characterization stops at "family man". One senses the film bending over backwards to justify this character, and in turn, franchise mainstays are shoved to the side. As a result, Cole feels like a convoluted plot-device to make a fan-favourite fight occur.

Credit where it's due, every scene involving Scorpion and Sub-Zero are fantastic, with Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada being excellent in the popular roles. The more time is spent with them, the more one wishes their feud was more of a focus. Underlying the film is a terrific score from Benjamin Wallfisch, delivering a wonderful take on the iconic theme. When it kicks in, prepare to be pumped up. As the last moments shift to heavy-handed sequel set-up, the idea of a follow-up is pleasing, although one hopes it would iron out the issues. Not a flawless victory, nor a cinematic fatality.

Mortal Kombat is in cinemas now, and available to rent from Premium VoD services