Mortal Kombat, review: a repellent example of Hollywood’s artistic bankruptcy
Dir: Simon McQuoid. Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Chin Lan. 15 cert, 110 mins “In Mortal Kombat,” warns Kung Lao (Max Huang), a warrior monk with an Oddjob-ish razor-rimmed hat, “talent will only get you so far.” That’s certainly one way of putting it. The largely unknown cast of this video-game adaptation seem like a nice bunch, but if the next Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron happens to be among them, you would struggle to pick them out on the basis of anything here. The first instalment in the Mortal Kombat beat ’em up series arrived in amusement arcades in 1992, and soon became celebrated for its charming “fatality” feature, which allowed players to murder their on-screen rivals in various ornately gruesome ways. The series always leaned into its B-movie roots: one character was inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme, another by the China O’Brien star Cynthia Rothrock, and many more by the heroes and villains of the forbidden-seeming Hong Kong action films only viewable in the West on bootleg VHS cassettes. But it was all so grottily derivative that, when converted back into actual flesh-and-blood cinema, everything about it seemed infantile and laughable: see 1995’s Mortal Kombat and its 1997 sequel for further evidence of that (or, better still, don’t). The new version is every bit as bad, and a lot more expensive. It centres on a new hero, Lewis Tan’s Cole Young, a mixed-martial-arts fighter whose dragon-shaped birthmark identifies him as one of Earth’s chosen warriors in an impending battle with the denizens of Outworld – “the most brutal and murderous of all the realms,” of all the lousy luck. His teammates include two former special-forces types, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), plus a foul-mouthed Australian mercenary called Kano (Josh Lawson), whose main purpose is to puncture the script’s unbearable pomposity with even more unbearable humorous asides. The band descends on a desert temple where they train with Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), a Bruce Lee type who can summon fireballs with his fists – though “training” here boils down to fighting each other in every possible configuration. Then eventually the bad guys arrive, and they fight them instead. Occasionally a familiar face from Asian cinema – Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano – will drop by in the guise of an immortal ninja, growl something subtitled, and lob a lightning bolt or spear of ice into the fray.