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the new movie Mortal Kombat is a satisfying mess, like a chili dog. I don’t eat chili dogs all the time. You know, maybe once or twice a year and when I do eat them I’m a little ashamed but, also, happy I did it.
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A chili dog isn’t really food the way Mortal Kombat isn’t really a movie. They both hit the spot but only if you’re hungry for that sort of thing. Not every meal as to be four-star fancy and not every movie has to be an award-winner that wrestles with our mortality (I could argue Mortal Kombat does this but in very direct and unsubtle ways.)
So yeah, I was in the mood for Mortal Kombat on HBO Max. Lewis Tan is perfect as new character Cole Young, whose arcana, or superpower, is [REDACTED BECAUSE IT’S SORT OF A SPOILER.] A pair of straight-up martial arts legends like Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim do their thing. The violence is gory and mercenary weasel with a laser beam eye Kano is a hoot.
In fact, director Simon McQuoid’s first movie is a respectful adaptation of a 29-year-old video game mega-franchise but it’s also smart enough to just be a movie about punching and kung-fu fireballs and winged monster women — you can tell from the lavish budget and the sequel wink at the end that the AT&T executives who are playing studio moguls over at Warner Media are salivating for an MCU-like franchise.
The Godzillaverse didn’t really work. Zack Snyder’s Triumph Of The Capes isn’t a multi-billion dollar content machine. Maybe Mortal Kombat resurrected will be the winning ticket.
The plot of Mortal Kombat is best described in a series of grunt-like words: “Earthrealm!” “Outworld!” “Fight!” Those are words you need to know and it’s not necessary that you understand what those words mean in any context ion order to enjoy Mortal Kombat’s pleasures.
But that doesn’t mean the dialogue is nothing but monosyllables. There are plenty of references to the game. Kano steals every scene he’s in. with a solid half-dozen vulgar comebacks about genitals and Scorpion gets to deliver the line: “You wanted me to burn in the flames of hell… but I learned to control them.” It’s a good line.
The only reason to watch this movie is if you, a moviegoer, want to watch a character with ice powers freeze a spurt of blood into a dagger or if, like me, you played the video game, once upon a long time ago.
Nothing improves a video game like memory. If I were to play Midway Games’ original 1992 fantasy martial arts fighting game Mortal Kombat now I’d probably smirk at how primitive it was — -the graphics pixelated, the gameplay stiff, the violence relatively tame by today’s standards. The rose tint of remembering when is potent.
But the Mortal Kombat of the mind is completely different. The game I remember was unlike anything I’d seen before. The fighting scenes weren’t cartoonish, like Street Fighter. The game was almost cinematic or, at least, it aspired to that kind of quality. There were secret characters and unique final death blows — finishing moves — that required a little skill to learn. And, when in doubt, you could always just squat and trip your opponent over and over again, causing your little brother to hate you with a special fury.
Then there was the violence, too. Blood spurts and spinal columns being yanked out of bodies
The characters were flamboyant, yet grounded in reality just enough. The most popular ones like Sub-Zero and Scorpion were basically super-powered ninjas and in the early ’90s, the way to a boy’s heart was a video game about super-powered ninjas. There were other entertaining non-ninja characters like the cyborg Jax, four-armed Prince Goro, and Raiden, the lightning-shooting demi-god who wore an iconic conical hat. But Scorpion? I mean, let me die and come back to life as that masked badass.
Then there was the violence, too. Blood spurts and spinal columns being yanked out of bodies.
It was, at the time, a peerless work of art. I loved the game so much I ran to see the 1995 movie, which brought the interdimensional tournament for the future of Earth to shitty early 90s CGI life on the big screen. The movie is not good, not even in retrospect. I suppose the filmmakers didn’t look down on the source material but the movie’s effects are uninspired, the actors wooden like striking posts and the coolest character — Raiden, who is obviously Asian — is played by French actor Christopher Lambert, who became famous playing a Scottish immortal in the movie Highlander. That’s the ’90s for you, lots of fun but also racist.
Kudos to the producers at the time who knew nerds like me would flock to anything Mortal Kombat, but they could have tried harder. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, wasn’t any better.
I, for one, am thankful for this new Mortal Kombat however. It doesn’t simply kick-ass, it destroys said ass. It sends that ass to hell. The gore is sloppy, with lots of guts and brains. There are times when you sit down to watch a movie and there are times a movie sits down to watch you. Mortal Kombat looked me in the eyes and knew what’s in my heart without ripping it out of my chest.
My heart wants Mortal Kombat. My heart also wants spicy loose meat soup ladled over hot pork tubes, too, but my doctor has warned me about those. They’re bad for the ‘ol cholesterol.