VOD film review: Mortal Kombat (2021)
Ivan | On 06, May 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
Cast: Lewis Tan
Where to watch Mortal Kombat online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI / Microsoft Store / BT TV / PlayStation Video
Get over here! Flawless victory! Finish them! That video game franchise Mortal Kombat has left fans with multiple memorable catchphrases as well as a love of gory fighting moves is testament to its enduring, iconic legacy. The previous live-action film in the 1990s talked the talk, but never really walked the walk. This new live-action film does both with an admirable commitment to keeping things suitably non-child-friendly – yes, someone says “Finish them!” partway through, but someone also rips out another person’s heart with their bare hands.
In a way, that’s all a film based on Mortal Kombat really needs to do: with no real plot or characters to speak of, the video game’s basic premise is essentially one big tournament. The screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham doesn’t include the central contest at all, which initially seems like a red flag – but that gives time to flesh out the fighters just enough to make them engaging.
That begins with new character Cole Young, an MMA fighter played by Lewis Tan. After impressive turns in Netflix’s Iron Fist and Wu Assassins and AMC’s Into the Badlands, it’s a pleasure to see Tan get the leading film role he deserves; he’s a charismatic presence who is able to convey character through action, and the way his fighting style evolves throughout the film while retaining his instinctively defensive approach is the kind of touch that isn’t really needed in a movie in which a guy can create a dagger by freezing his opponent’s blood mid-air.
Subtlety, though, isn’t something anyone is going to accuse director Simon McQuoid of being. Making his feature debut, he confidently jumps from one violent showdown to the next, not skimping on the gore. It’s a head-smashing, buzz-sawing, arm-snapping cycle of carnage, which manages to both over-deliver on ridiculous brutality and retain a bone-crunching immediacy thanks to a cast who largely appear to do their own stunts.
They include Jessica McNamee (The Meg) as knife-wielding Sonya Blade, Supergirl’s Mehcad Brooks as pumped-up military vet Jax, Ludi Lin (Aquaman) as fire-wielding warrior Liu Kang; and Max Huang as the agile Kung Lao. They’re as commendably diverse as they are physically adept, and they’re wonderfully juxtaposed with the brash, rude and unthinking sarcasm of Kano (Josh Lawson, clearly having a ball).
They each get a moment of unleashing their full potential and unlocking their special abilities (their “arcana”), which they’re meant to use in a battle against Big Bad world destroyer Emperor Shang Tsung. The real villain, though, is the emperor’s icy warrior, Sub-Zero (an excellently chilling Joe Taslim), and it’s telling that he gets the opening scene along with Hiroyuki Sanada’s Hanzo Hasashi – the best moment in the whole film, and one that provides the through-line needed to give the climactic punch-up a satisfying wallop.
The result is flimsy nonsense that relies a little too much on quick editing and CGI rather than long takes and old-fashioned kung fu ballet. But it’s also a fast-paced medley of elaborate fight sequences that are just intense enough to avoid things feeling cheesy – and that’s a reason for any Mortal Kombat fan to get over here and boot it up.
Mortal Kombat (2021) is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.