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Review: 'Mortal Kombat' Gives the Video Game Dynamic Movie Treatment

by JC Alvarez
Friday Apr 23, 2021
Mehcad Brooks as Major Jackson 'Jax' Briggs in 'Mortal Kombat'
Mehcad Brooks as Major Jackson 'Jax' Briggs in 'Mortal Kombat'  (Source:Warner Bros.)

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Just when you thought you had escaped the doldrum of the franchise action blockbuster season due to the quarantine restrictions, Hollywood has found its way to keep audiences engaged. Streaming services like HBO Max are providing an avenue for those much anticipated hits to get out into the world. A surprising example was the recent release of the monster knock down brawl "Godzilla vs. Kong," but the battle for box office supremacy in this new paradigm has only just begun.

This week the much-hyped franchise reboot of "Mortal Kombat," based on the super-popular video game from the early '90s, is setting its sights on proving it's the king of the cage match. The game's designers, Ed Boon and John Tobias, were inspired by martial arts action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme, and wanted to create a video game environment where challengers could use their best moves to take down their opponent. The street fighting game, which gave players the option to do battle using a colorful array of warriors, led to a franchise phenomenon that included movies and TV shows.

The reboot doesn't stray too far from the formula that has guaranteed "Mortal Kombat" a place in the hearts and minds of its fans, although this much more contemporary romp has probably pushed the envelope with its relentless violence and gore, forcing an otherwise "general audience" attraction into R-rated territory. The 2021 iteration, directed by Simon McQuoid, lets the audience know from the beginning that this "Mortal Kombat" will not be pulling any punches!

The film begins in ancient times, as two warring forces set in motion a series of events. Their contempt and hate for another lead to a murderous rage that puts worlds in the balance. Lewis Tan plays MMA fighter Cole Young, an orphan who is desperately looking for purpose and finds very little purpose in the ring. He lives for his wife and daughter, but when a terrifying assassin named Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) comes gunning for him, Cole has to make a choice: Become the hunter or remain the prey!

With the help of Jax (Mehcad Brooks of The CW's "Supergirl") and the mercenary Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Cole is about to be recruited into a "secret society" of fighters preparing to defend the Earthrealm from the monsters of the Outworld. The prize is clear — the Earth hangs in the balance. The warriors are assembled from every corner of the planet, identified by the "Dragon Marking" and their super power that gives them the edge on the battlefield. "Mortal Kombat" is one fight sequence after another, and, in this reimagining, the fight is bloody and often gross. Fans of the video game will be pleased.

There is no deep character analysis here, mostly because the heroes are all avatars of expected tropes: The aimless hero, the kick-ass femme fatale, the rogue agent, and the monster — there are also lots of monsters. The effects are impressive, and the fight sequences are well choreographed; it's not "Matrix"-level artistry, but it's still genius to watch in motion. For the fans of the franchise, this may be the most elaborately scaled adaptation of the video game yet. It's a blockbuster that doesn't apologize for kicking the crap out of you, and will undoubtedly bully you into a rematch. Now, fight!

"Mortal Kombat" is released in theaters nationwide and premieres on HBO Max Friday, April 23.

Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".


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