Mortal Kombat may be a film based on the long-running video game series that focuses on the battles between Earthrealm and Outworld and the Lin Kuei and Shirai Ryu clans but it is utterly and totally Kano’s movie.
Played by Australian actor Josh Lawson, Kano takes the reins the moment he first appears and doesn’t let go for a second. Lawson, in full over-the-top ocker mode, chews the scenery harder and more ferociously than an automated ferocious, scene-chewing machine.
In his parlance, he’s a “bloody ripper.”
Sure, Mortal Kombat is a movie about good versus evil and about people with powers fighting each other for the fate of the world but none of that matters when Kano is on screen. Nothing matters except for the next thing to come out of Kano’s mouth. It’s all filth and it’s all sensational. I promise I’ll get to the rest of the movie soon but I want, no, need to gush about Lawson a little longer.
Ahead of the screening, my friend worried about which non-Australian actor was going to both butcher the accent and vocabulary ok kano as they attempted to bring Kano to life. However, two seconds after Kano first opened his mouth, he turned to me and gave me the thumbs up. If there was an Oscars category for Best Scene Stealer, Lawson would be a shoo-in. Mortal Kombat fans need little reason beyond the movie’s existence to go see it but should you need an extra nudge, trust me, Kano makes the trip to the cinema totally worth your time.
Mortal Kombat (2021) Review
For the movie proper, Directed by Simon McQuoid and written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, it hits most of the right notes. Taking its cues from the first three Mortal Kombat games, the plot focuses on the prophecy that the blood of Hanzo Hasashi will unite Earthrealm’s greatest warriors and prevent Outworld from winning the 10th Mortal Kombat tournament and thus invading and taking over Earthrealm. Shang Tsung, having sent Sub-Zero to murder Hanzo Hasashi in the 17th Century is confident of his success but sends the frosty assassin to take out each of the present-day champions before the tournament can commence.
Cole Young, a washed-up MMA fighter is one of Sub-Zero’s targets. A new character created specifically for the film, Young, played by Lewis Tan, is a real-let down. His character is neither developed enough nor strong enough in any convictions to make an impact. As a stand-in for the audience, his character gets the job done, but beyond that, he fails to make much of an impression. Appearing alongside series favourites like Jax, Raiden, Sub-Zero and, yes, Kano, Young is entirely underwhelming.
Thankfully, most of the characters making the leap from game to film are handled well. Kano, as we’ve discussed, is probably the best thing about the entire movie with Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Goro all getting pretty spectacular treatment at the hands of the filmmakers. Joe Taslim (Sub-Zero) and Hiroyuki Sanada (Scorpion) manage to add some much-needed depth and gravitas to proceedings, elevating the silly nonsense of Mortal Kombat beyond its pulp roots.
While the filmmakers have shown restraint in the number of included characters, there are still too many for them all to have a moment to shine. Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Kabal (Daniel Nelson) and Jax (Mechad Brooks) are all present and translate well to the screen but each lacks a moment of their own and so feel underdeveloped and underused. Conversely, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) is overused to the point of annoyance.
Not only is Sonya far too much of a driving force for much of the narrative weight of Mortal Kombat, but McNamee’s performance is also wooden at best. She’s not believable in the role in the slightest and so Sonya feels out of place. I can’t put my finger on exactly why McNamee is wrong for the part but unfortunately, she’s the weakest link. And thanks to the film’s reliance on Sonya as a major player, her presence is largely unwelcome.
From a technical standpoint, Mortal Kombat is great. The visual effects are incredibly well done with fire, ice, lightning and other various magic all looking great on-screen. Goro, an entirely CG character, also manages to avoid looking fake and out of place which is an excellent technical feat.
For a film about fighting, I found the direction and choreography during fight scenes a little distracting. Too often, the camera would pull in incredibly close to the action, blurring the fighters and surroundings to create a sense of speed and tension. It’s hard to become invested in the outcome of ‘kombat’ when it’s difficult to discern one fighter from another. I’d much prefer the camera to slow down and pick and choose where to focus in order to emphasise the hits and show off the skills of the fighters. That being said, for the most part, the fight scenes were brutal and violent, as expected for a movie based on a game famous for its fatalities.
Unfortunately, it’s in the film’s homage to the game series where things become clumsy. After Kano rips out the heart of his opponent and utters “Kano wins”, the audience cheered and erupted in laughter. It was a great nod to the game and should have been where the filmmakers left it. However, after hearing “get over here,” “flawless victory,” “finish them,” “fatality” and “test your might” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Each time another catchphrase was rolled out it suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Not to mention, Kano’s felt, at least a little, natural while the others were very roughly shoehorned in.
For all of my complaints though, I found Mortal Kombat to be great fun. It’s big, loud, dumb, gory, sweary and violent, just like its accidental star Kano. Fans of the games are going to love it and moviegoers who like a bit of comic book violence are going to find plenty to be excited about.
Mortal Kombat is in cinemas now.