Running time: 110 minutes. Rated R (strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude references.) In theaters and on HBO Max.
You’ve gotta hand it to Warner Bros. With their new reboot of “Mortal Kombat,” the studio has given audiences the anti-Oscars.
In Best Picture-nominated “Nomadland,” Frances McDormand never once slices open a four-armed Hulk so his innards spill out onto the pavement. In “Mortal Kombat,” that’s one of the less gratuitous scenes. The action film is as unpretentious as Charlie Sheen eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut at Six Flags.
In short: blissfully dumb entertainment.
But the movie doesn’t assault your taste in the way the 1995 flick, also based on the ultraviolent arcade game, and its sequel “Annihilation” do. The reboot is actually quite well-made by first-time feature director Simon McQuoid. You’ll have a good time and forget about it 30 minutes later.
McQuoid strikes the ideal balance of serious and stupid, and Greg Russo and Dave Callaham’s script does a far superior job of explaining why invisible lizards and ice-ninjas are so keen on roundhouse kicking some humans.
The universe, we learn, is divided into several realms, including “Earthrealm” — our little dog-and-pony show — and “Outworld” — the most terrifying and war-torn of them all. Chosen fighters from each realm compete in a tournament, called Mortal Kombat, to stave off the annihilation of Earth by the Outworlders.
The endless terminology grates, but it conceals a very simple plot: Group saves world with martial arts.
The characters are easy to grasp, too. New leading man, Cole (Lewis Tan), is given a puddle’s worth of depth because he’s determined to protect his wife and daughter. Cole’s an orphaned cage fighter whose life goes into a tailspin when he learns he’s been chosen to defend Earth.
He meets up with Kano (Josh Lawson), the foul-mouthed Australian mercenary, femme fatale Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Special Forces soldier Jax (Mehcad Brooks) — and the quartet jet off to Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) desert temple to train.
They’re taught by Raiden’s right-hand men Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), who help the trio unleash their superpowers. See, a black belt alone won’t win the tournament. A person needs laser eyes, or fire hands, or a magical spinning hat to emerge victorious. Those gifts must be unlocked in the chosen few, who each share a special dragon birthmark that looks conspicuously like a trademarked logo.
One of the criticisms of the first “Mortal Kombat” film was that it wasn’t violent enough. Can you imagine? Well, the new movie has remedied that, and then some. It’s a veritable hemophiliac — the blood never stops gushing. A bad guy is sliced in half by a table saw and few throats are spared. The fatalities keep on coming.
The fights are artful, though, and exhilarating — particularly those of Huang and Lin. Huang is a member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, and Lin played the Black Ranger in the “Power Rangers” film. Out of everybody, the duo balances high stakes and humor the best.
The rest of the acting, well, we won’t be seeing these guys at the Oscars next year. We probably won’t even see them in a Marvel movie. Tan, Lawson and McNamee give what amount to toned-down video-game performances, which is what they were assigned to do. And, frankly, good for them. Every time one of these silly old properties gets remade, the audience sits in fear that it’ll be turned into an allegory, or a statement on US politics, or the realization of some aging geek’s dark vision.
“Mortal Kombat” is none of those things. It’s just plain, unrepentant fun.