Mortal Kombat (3 stars)

Mortal Kombat

The wildly popular video game gets another crack at cinematic glory

To some, a movie based on a 1992 video game, which has already produced two fairly terrible film spin-offs, might seem like a perversely retro and perhaps even sadistic move, but Mortal Kombat as a franchise is still going strong, recently surpassing its beat 'em up rivals Tekken and Street Fighter in global lifetime sales. Simon McQuoid makes his directorial debut with this serviceable showcase for some decent martial arts, with Hiroyuki Sanada and The Raid's Joe Taslim amongst those battling it out.

Britain's Lewis Tan plays the slightly bland and perpetually bemused Cole Young, an MMA fighter and family man who is taken under the wing of Special Forces veterans Sonya Blade and Jax Briggs (Jessica McNamee and Mehcad Brooks). Guided by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the trio team up with other top 'Earthrealm' warriors, before they are pitted against dastardly Outworld forces, led by Ng Chin Han's soul-devouring sorcerer Shang Tsung and his bad-ass henchman Sub-Zero (Taslim).

The casting of Christopher Lambert as a Japanese thunder god was a sticking point in the 1995 film (this version plumps more respectably for the Japanese Asano). The ensemble are mainly competent actors, not something that could be said before, with an earnest McNamee and an enjoyably obnoxious Josh Lawson doing precisely what is required of them. Lawson plays Australian mercenary Kano, the initial comic relief, who gets to deliver some memorable taunts and is described amusingly as a 'low-life, piece of shit scumbag', while actors of the calibre of Sanada and Ng add a touch of class.

The fisticuffs interspersed with wisdom shtick does get a bit tired, and attempts at humour are often undermined by the hilariously po-faced approach of what's, to-be-honest, a very silly story. If the character development is lame and lazy, there's fun to be had as the chosen humans are bestowed with their 'arcana' superpowers, often just in the nick of time. The approach to action isn't exactly inventive but it's slick and punchy enough for fans of the game (and fighting in general), with the occasional ultra-violent, 'finish him' flourish. Most importantly, it's by far the best movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat to date. Make of that what you will.

Available to watch on premium video on demand now, and in cinemas from Mon 17 May.

Mortal Kombat

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 1h 50min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Simon McQuoid
  • Written by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham
  • Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada
  • UK release: 6 May 2021

With the Earth's very existence on the line, her greatest champions gather to fight the Outworld in the grand tournament, Mortal Kombat. Based on the 1992 video game series.