Saturday, April 24, 2021


Here’s the thing about Mortal Kombat: it’s really boring. Maybe it always has been. My fond memories of the original game extend solely to hearing its catchy theme song — the driving electric beat building to the always enjoyable sound of a man hollering the title at the top of his lungs — booming out from the darkest corner of the arcade. If you walked by, you’d always see memorably baroque kung-fu cartoons bouncing on their heels, fists up, ready to fight. Sometimes a geyser of blood would erupt if it was demonstrating its excessive animated gore — really the thing setting it apart from the other games in the place. I never played it, but hearing the thing sticks with me. And, although I’m sure the fighting game has reams of complicated canon by now, having extended through multiple platforms and iterations, I never much care about its knotty character feuds and connections. The thing is just plain silly, a mechanism for video game violence. Not even reliable genre craftsman Paul W.S. Anderson could make a wholly successful feature film out of its simple rounds of fantasy combat. But at least his 1995 attempt was short, exuberantly silly, quickly paced, heavy on stunts and effects, and reasonably committed to just doing a simple tournament story.

This new one, from debut feature filmmaker Simon McQuoid, has maybe a half-dozen minutes of cool fight choreography stretched across a slog. There’s an early moment in medieval Japan where a guy who can make icicles grow erect from his palm has killed a woman and her child, freezing them in a Pieta. That’s sledgehammer clever. The grief-stricken father hacks at the attackers with a trowel on the end of a rope, sending it sailing straight through the back of a head and toward the camera in a way that had me wishing this was in 3D. That’s a neat moment. Later, a guy in an icy cage match will be thrown hard against the metal bars, the force of the blow knocking the frost off the frigid structure. That’s kinda cool for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flourish. The rest, though? My goodness, is it just dimly lit sets or flatly presented landscapes in which a blandly directed cast stands around pontificating and plotting and mumbling and doing their level best to not nod off or crack a smile through pages of backstory and exposition while heroes and villains gather up the fighters and train for the next round. I don’t want to say it’s impossible to make a good movie out of this material, but I will say the only time I was most satisfied was the end credits, because at least I got to hear the theme song in full. At least Paul W.S. Anderson had the wisdom to give that to us over the first seconds of his version.

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