I’ll readily admit I was not expecting this new Mortal Kombat movie reboot to be good. Simon McQuoid, despite making a cool PlayStation commercial years ago, had never directed a feature-length film before. Plus, the first trailer for the film looked really cheesy — and not necessarily in the fun cheesy way that propelled the original Mortal Kombat movie to terrific success. But upon watching the movie on HBO Max last night, I found that the movie was actually cheesy in the best way. Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat movie is nonstop action glued together by dialogue that could have sometimes been written by an 8th grader, and it works.
(There are no spoilers in this discussion.)
This Mortal Kombat movie is almost all action, all the time
When Godzilla vs. Kong came out, I felt that the action was superb but that the movie was ultimately still a giant waste of time because there was too much meaningless fluff surrounding that action. However, the Mortal Kombat reboot movie solves this issue by just never letting the action stop. With rare exception, it feels like the movie can’t go five minutes without a fight breaking out, even if it has to completely contrive a reason for it. I can’t emphasize enough how good a move this was.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Usually, story is extremely important to me, and I hate when a narrative takes the bland or easy way out with storytelling. However, a Mortal Kombat movie is never going to aim for Shakespeare, and one of Sub-Zero’s first English lines had me laughing out loud at how unnatural and absurd it was. To the film’s credit, the script also has a lot of intentional humor, and Kano in particular gets a lot of chuckle-worthy lines that reflect his personality as an awful human. But Simon McQuoid had a difficult balancing act on his hands: How do you reference years of franchise lore while still tapping into all the incredible action opportunities uniquely presented by Mortal Kombat?
McQuoid and scriptwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callaham ultimately landed on an amazingly utilitarian answer: Dialogue and scene-setting only exist just long enough to provide a drip of character development and justify the next story beat.
Here’s Jax: He introduces himself, gives new character protagonist Cole some guiding advice, then bam big action scene. Here’s Sonya Blade: She introduces herself, has a surprisingly interesting angle compelling her character, then — wait, here’s Kano, also introducing himself. Then somebody else shows up and bam big action scene. A little later on, the characters are walking around and nothing much is going on, so bam quick action scene.
And that’s the entire Mortal Kombat movie. It’s glorious! And quite imaginative too. However, that’s not to say McQuoid is indifferent or insensitive to franchise lore — quite the opposite. He preserves and establishes pretty much all the core beats of the franchise while, dare I say, artfully leaving the door open for even bigger, better sequels. He also provides many delightfully cheesy winks and nods to the games, with Kung Lao saying “Flawless victory” for absolutely no reason but it’s awesome.
Granted, it’s important I note that I don’t actually think of myself as a big Mortal Kombat fan; I realized with tremendous horror that I probably haven’t played a game in the franchise since 1997’s Mortal Kombat 4 on Nintendo 64. So I absolutely empathize with fans who would have preferred this Mortal Kombat reboot movie be a deep dive into the lore and a cerebral take on what goes on in the minds of trained killers. But — again — this movie does lovingly establish all the foundational elements, so there’s nothing preventing sequels from doing the lore deep dive those fans want.
To be fair, I do have some little beefs with Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat. For instance, Cole seems a bit overpowered in a classic OP fan fiction character sort of way, and Raiden seems so needlessly angry so much of the time, almost to the point of feeling like a senile old drunk. And the whole end of the movie is a rushed tornado of separate action scenes, but considering that’s what the movie is in the first place, I can hardly fault the movie for sticking with what it knows.
So the bottom line is this: The Mortal Kombat reboot movie is cheesy and ridiculous and just an explosion of action, and I want the sequel immediately.