Something pleasant to look forward to each year in cinema are those days when you don't really mind that you have seen a movie that isn't good but you still had a great time nevertheless. There's always one or two more but this year really kicks off with director Simon McQuoid's Mortal Kombat, yet another martial arts film based on the classic video game franchise, this time adapted by writers Greg Russo and Dave Callaham.
After a prologue featuring Hanzo Hasashi a.k.a Scorpion (Sanada Hiroyuki) and villain Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), we meet Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a struggling MMA fighter who is unknowingly a descendant of Scorpion, as he is approached by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) to join a team of fighters which will defend Earthrealm against the wicked Outworld's fighters. Cole and Jax are joined by Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Lin Ludi) and Kung Lao (Max Huang).
As suggested earlier, Mortal Kombat never evolves into anything beyond fighting and gruesome kills but that doesn't mean that you can't have fun with it. Also that doesn't take into account the genuinely fantastic 10-minute prologue which should be released as a short on its own. It feels like it was shot by a completely different crew (looking at you, second unit) because the cinematography is consistent and choreography works, plus Sanada makes an immediate impression as the character while Sub-Zero is established as a real threat there. Later in the film, Lawson is the one who takes the centre stage since he truly knows what movie he is in, the humour from Kano is unrelenting and Lawson's delivery is first-rate. It is much thanks to him that you remember the first hour more fondly than you perhaps should.
It's pretty much right there at halfway point, 50 to 55 minutes in, that the movie changes drastically. The fight scenes, which should be the selling point, just get worse each time to the point that editing makes them hard to understand. Of all kinds of movies, one featuring martial arts should showcase good choreography, tight compositions and patient editing but instead they feel rushed and too reliant on CGI-effects and creatures.
At the same time you also realise that the character of Cole is so unimaginative that you really don't get why he is the key to everything or why we are spending time with his wife and daughter. Then perhaps because the character is so uninspired, Tan's performance is too, especially compared to Sanada and Lawson. Mortal Kombat hints at a great action fantasy film which really just needs solid fighting and a charismatic main character, in this one it's the prologue and supporting characters (Kano, Kang, Lao) that make the journey somewhat worthwhile and entertaining.
Smileys: Sanada Hiroyuki, Josh Lawson
Frowneys: Characterisation, Lewis Tan, editing
Oh scotch? Better than Fireball, you *****!