There’s nothing immortal about the new “Mortal Kombat,” except for the ninja god who, just before some major kombat, mentions: “I have risen from Hell to kill you.”
But as crud goes, it’s zippy and reasonably entertaining. The movie premiered in theaters the same day it dropped on HBO Max for home gaming. Sorry, streaming. Straming? Geaming? Something. Something in the middle there.
Speaking of streaming: This thing is a RIVER of blood. The two “Mortal Kombat” movies made in the 1990s, based on the 1992 video game that led to countless recreational spinal column removals worldwide, carried the PG-13 rating. The new movie, directed by first-time feature filmmaker and “Call of Duty” TV commercial veteran Simon McQuoid, pushes way, way past that, landing in the region of “Mortal Kombat-the-game” grisly. Hearts are yanked and brandished, proudly; the winged adversary Nitara (Mel Jarnson) is vivisected into halvsies, longwise.
My favorite bit? At one point one kombatant stabs another and then freezes the massive blood geyser midair — the character known as Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) runs around like Elsa’s lost brother in an ultraviolent version of “Frozen” — and then stabs his enemy with that. I admit I rewound that bit, which is equal parts “huh?” “wha?” and “krazy.”
Screenwriters Greg Russell and Dave Callaham take a lot of the Kombat lore seriously, and some of it not, and somehow the percentages work out all right. It starts in 17th-century Japan — the film’s seven-minute prologue is everywhere online right now — and then plops us into the present.
“Earthrealm is on the verge of catastrophe,” begins the on-screen primer. “Should it lose one more tournament” (the kombat mortal of the title), “the savage realm of Outworld will invade.” But there’s a but! “But an ancient prophecy foretells that a new group of champions will be united by the rise of Hanzo Hasashi’s blood.”
Among that group, and new to the “Mortal Kombat” lore: a scrappy but tender mixed martial arts competitor named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who bears the trademarked Mortal Kombat logo for a birthmark. He’s plagued by visions of his ancestral past, blood, fire, prologue stuff, everything. Cole leaves wife and child behind for a bit so he can team up with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee, flat of vocal affect but a stickler for posture); Blade’s fellow special forces veteran Jax (Mehcad Brooks, outshining his material); and a few others who go fist to fist, blade to blade and splurch to “geeehaaah!” against the Outworlders, including a giant invisible lizard.
The stunt coordinators and fight choreographers do their jobs well, to the degree you can honestly appreciate what they’re up to. Director McQuoid and his editors make it hard to appreciate the practical wows amid so much conventional camerawork, framing and cutting. An unfashionable complaint, but there it is.
The movie benefits from what few laughs it generates in between shameless, rote, bloodthirsty fatalities, chiefly thanks to the scuzzy mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), full of trash talk and perpetually deserving of a comeuppance or a quick toss headlong into the nearest slab of concrete. At one point I turned on the subtitles, just to see how the actors’ growls and squeals were being described. “Impact grunt” came up a lot. That’s the movie in two little words, and while it may be dumb, it’s not stupid.