We all know why we’re here, let’s not mess around.
Mortal Kombat is the directorial debut of one Simon McQuiod, and it’s an absolute beast of a film. You know the drill, with the tournament and the gore, but what gets me here is that films like this are such a slave to the lore they have to tread a fine line between pleasing wide audiences and performing acts of fanservice. Adapting source material is always hard, and video game adaptations have proven to be the worst for two generations now. We’ve seen success in the last couple of years with Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, but when we step away away from the family friendly franchises things start to get weird.
The last ten years gave us the rise of the R-rated adaptations of “things.” Whether it was comics or video games, people longed for hyperviolent films that bathe in excessive nudity and expletives. Sometimes these desires become toxic and awful, like the one that led to the release of the middling “Snyder Cut.” Other times we get quiet but passionate fanbases that just want their property to be accurately portrayed. This is the latter, a group that plays a fighting game with a deep lore and blood flying around like oxygen particles. I’ll admit to not being versed in all *checks notes* eighteen games and their lore, but I’ve got a solid base and understand the premise (okay, so I may have put on an eleven hour YouTube video on over several days to catch up).
And you know what? It’s a success without that level of study. You don’t need to climb to a monastery and open a library full of ancient tomes to learn about Elder Gods, time travel, and the complicated interpersonal relationships of these characters to love this movie. Just enough ground is laid down to stand on, allowing for the action and flying viscera to take over completely and deliver a fantastic time at the theatre. Oddly enough the character we are asked to love the most is new, one that was created simply for this film, and they’re the least interesting. It goes to show that films with these types of ideas behind them have to keep grounded in the fanbase to succeed, and while revolving themselves around a new character is certainly an idea I’m afraid its unsustainable. Thankfully we have so much more to grasp onto.
We’ve long dispensed with the idea of the “video game curse,” an concept that has plagued filmmaking for quite some time. Most adaptations of a video game are abysmal, but the last few years have shown that prioritizing a fun story that is aimed at the fan base will net results. Mortal Kombat attempts to toss that from kid-friendly-fare to the gorehounds of the world, relishing each fatality and special move. Many of them make it into the film and I recognized them (as a layman I feel like that’s impressive, but I could be wrong). I’ve longed for something like this, especially since growing beyond the 1997 film to find that the games were horrifically violent and gruesome. Was it the fact that I watched this at a godforsaken hour of the morning? Maybe, but other things might have contributed to my enjoyment.
Let’s not skimp on talking about Benjamin Wallfisch, who scored both IT movies and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness alongside the Oscar nominated The Invisible Man. He usually has a lot of fun in his work, but everything he does here is purely in service of enjoying the game on the level every fan wants to. Incorporating music into the scene is crucial, but when it comes to writing a score for something like this things often get left by the wayside. Wallfisch chose to go all out, creating the tone for every character and trying to make sure everyone got to shine. It’s an absolute blast without ever finding a way into being special on its own.
Mortal Kombat is such a mixed bag of a film, but you get what you came for. I came to watch the fights and see references to what little lore I knew, leaving me satisfied and wanting more. There’s a lot of art in the fight choreography and even more in some of the performances, but that leaves less interesting characters and ideas by the wayside. Still, it’s a solid film that has so many entertaining qualities that I want more. Bring on the sequels, as many as you want, because I’m ready for ’em!
Mortal Kombat is currently available in theatres and on HBO Max.