‘Mortal Kombat’ is far from flawless, but it’s a bloody good time

If you're looking for a fun, post-vaccination theater experience, you could do worse than this violent video-game-turned-movie

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Liu Kang (Ludi Lin, left) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) are ready for a fight as champions of Earth in "Mortal Kombat."

It’s been more than a year since I experienced a film inside a movie theater. I’ve missed it so much. I’ve daydreamed about what my first movie back would be. It wasn’t “Tenet.” It wasn’t even the very big-screen-worthy “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Nope, it was a movie based on a video game, the subgenre with perhaps the most misses and just outright bad movies.

If you'd told me a year ago that my first movie back would be “Mortal Kombat,” and that I would be more than fine with that, I would have said you were lying, but here we are.

It’s been almost 30 years since the hyper-violent arcade game became a phenomenon and sparked debate over violence in video games. And the franchise already had one largely forgotten attempt to jumpstart Mortal Kombat as a movie series with two films in the mid-90s.

Much like the ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining “Godzilla vs. Kong,” this “Mortal Kombat” knows its audience and knows what they want. If you want blood, you got it.

A prologue scene sets a serious tone and showcases the first of many choreographed fight scenes, because obviously. Then we get to the present day and the requisite setup of why there is a tournament that pits fighters from different realms against each other in deadly, er, kombat.

A new character is created to drive the narrative in Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter whose career has turned him into a punching bag on low-pay bills. Of course, Cole has a secret connection to the world of Mortal Kombat, and he learns about this when Jax (Mehcad Brooks) contacts him after a fight, then rescues him from a supernatural appearance from Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). This leads Cole to Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who has turned her military special forces skills toward researching the mysterious tournament.

If any of these names mean anything to you, yes, you want to see this “Mortal Kombat.” I can’t imagine this ridiculous story interesting anyone except fans of the game, but it’s also a case of shutting your brain off and watching people beat each other’s faces off.

And that video game violence is definitely delivered, the kind of over-the-top gore that is so cartoonish, it’s actually not that stomach-churning. It is unlikely that we will see a rash of people bisected by a razor-bladed Frisbee hat in the near future.

Director Simon McQuoid is working with a cast of relative unknowns probably in part to keep the budget down. And I don’t imagine a lot of big-name stars are anxious to connect themselves to a video game movie given the history. This actually works in favor of the movie, making it both more immersive and providing some “so bad it’s good” movie moments when the exposition of the plot is just laughable.

Getting most of the intentional laughs is Josh Lawson’s Kano, a mouthy mercenary who provides the requisite one-liners. The humor is much needed, as “Mortal Kombat” is at its worst when it takes itself seriously.

But it’s a bloody good time for the target audience, and my excitement to be back in a movie theater elevated the enjoyment. So much so, in fact, that this is a worthy theater experience to celebrate that new vaccination you hopefully have gotten. If you want the at-home experience, this one is also dropping on HBO Max for 30 days.

The third act delivers plenty of action, as well as plenty of confusion if you think too hard. And it mercifully clocks in under two hours by setting up, yes, a sequel. This is actually preferable to trying to wrap up this ridiculous plot. Heck, I’m down for the rematch.

“Mortal Kombat”