You may not be aware, but one legend has it that our universe was divided up long ago into several different realms. Two of the big players were the Earthrealm—defended by incredible martial artists and good guys—and the Outworld, a place for evil demons and foul sorcerers. (Hey, they had to have someplace to call home.)
Oh, and on a regular basis, a number of representatives from those realms gather to fight for superiority in a deathmatch tournament called Mortal Kombat!
If you’re wondering about the “K,” well, don’t worry about it. The point is, Outworld has won the last nine tournaments, and a tenth victory will serve up dominion over Earth. But Outworld’s wicked ruler, Shang Tsung, isn’t willing to risk a battle. He’s decided to cheat and send out his monstery battlers to surreptitiously kill all of Earthrealm’s heroes before said Kombat commences.
However, an ancient prophecy is also in the mix. And it states that the blood of Hanzo Hasashi, a man killed in 17th-century Japan, will unite a new generation of Earthrealm’s champions to prevent Outworld’s victory.
And who is Hanzo’s blood descendent? Well, it’s none other than Cole Young, a washed-up former MMA champ is more punching bag these days than heroic world-saver. Sure, he carries the distinctive dragon birthmark of the ancient hero. But the rest of his body is covered in bruises and scars from way too many lost fights.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the Outworld killers from coming after Cole and his family. And he’d better find a way to power up his game before the true Kombat with a K destroys everything and everyone he loves.
Cole and his ancient ancestor both fight to their last breath to save the family members they love. (Hanzo tells his wife, “I am grateful and blessed to be with you.”) In fact, it’s Cole’s love for his wife and daughter that spurs him to reach beyond his own physical limits and find the “arcana” power hidden deep in his spirit (more on that later).
The Earthrealm battlers sacrifice themselves (in a few cases quite literally) to protect each other and the world at large.
Combatants unleash various magical abilities during the course of many battles. Each of the marked battlers is gifted with some kind of magically enhanced arcana power. One can call upon lightning blasts, another fireballs, etc.
Each battler has to find a way to unlock those magical abilities. It’s said that the key for each might come from pain or some intense emotion. One fighter gains his, for instance, through his rage. Cole, as mentioned, discovers his arcana power through an intense desire to protect his wife and daughter.
Characters cast magical spells, too. One person deploys a wall-like incantation of protection around an ancient temple, for instance. And he uses lightning-flash magic to teleport himself and others to distant locations. Another uses his fire magic to create a huge, fiery dragon. An evil sorcerer uses his power to drain the soul of a defeated foe, leaving a husked shell of a body behind. And he teleports others away with black clouds of smoke.
When one particular hero is murdered, the man’s fiery rage sends his spirit to a hell-like Netherrealm. We see him stuck in this flaming domain until he later breaks free to “rise from hell” with the ability to breathe out super-heated flames that sear the flesh off his lower face.
The heroes take refuge in an ancient temple that someone notes was a “place of worship for thousands of years.” Some shaolin monks work to heal an injured man.
An ex-military member named Sonya Blade wears a tight khaki tank top that accentuates her curves and muscular shoulders. Some of the armor worn by female characters is quite formfitting as well.
Cole and his wife kiss. One nasty guy tosses occasional crude sexual remarks at several people.
This entire film is focused on battle—which should be no surprise for a movie based on a fighting-focused video game. And those struggles range from a bloody and battering MMA bout to close-quarter knife fights to broadly choreographed martial arts battles with melee weapons to bloody dismemberments.
Humans and monstrous characters alike are pummeled and pounded in the face and upper body. Heads get slammed into stones; trees and arms and necks get snapped. Blades of all shapes and sizes slash at foes and are stabbed into necks, torsos, abdomens and backs (sometimes with the bloody blade being withdrawn and licked). Martial arts battles showcase men being hacked, broken and impaled from multiple angles. In all of these instances, blood splashes about, while slashed-and-bloody wounds or skinned flesh are left behind.
Even more extreme and graphic: We see someone blasted through the abdomen, tearing away the flesh and organs and leaving an exposed spine showing through the open hole. A large foe is stabbed in the eye and then gutted, causing his entrails to spill out on the ground. A character has his face battered to pulp and his head crushed to mush. Someone has his arms frozen and then broken off his body in bloody chunks. That same attacker freezes a woman and her child, leaving the dead remains in an icy statue.
A female character is forcibly pushed down on a razor-sharp spinning blade and gruesomely sawn open from the crown of her head down to her crotch. A lizardman creature that drools acid is slashed repeatedly and eventually its attacker jams a hand into its chest and rips out its heart. Etc.
More than 50 f-words and a dozen s-words join a half-dozen uses each of the words “a–,” “d–n” and h—.” There are several crude references to male and female genitals.
A guy drinks beer.
One “good” guy betrays his team and allows Shang Tsung and his demon fighters to get past the group’s defenses. A man mentions killing a human trafficker who sold orphans.
When thinking back on past attempts at translating the 1992 Mortal Kombat game into movie form, I can easily say—without fear of being riddled with Okinawan sais or gutted by an icy katana—that I found this newest cinematic version to be … surprising.
It’s surprisingly well acted, for one thing. Yes, there are plot-holes to be sure, but the classic MK characters are slickly presented, and they’re fleshed out believably with all their arcana power bells and whistles. On top of that, the carefully choreographed battles are realistic and visceral while adding in lots of nods to a MK-game-arena feel.
Of course, that “surprising” label fits in other areas, too. Transferring those insanely brutal battle moves into a CGI-laden R-rated film makes things surprisingly gruesome at times. No, there are no ripped-out spines. But other heart-snatching, entrail-spilling, limb-hacking, body-splitting Mortal Kombat gore flows unabated.
This pic is almost shockingly foul-mouthed, too. Some characters chuck so many f-bombs in their attacks that you’d think profanity was their main weapon of choice.
All of that to say that any adult escorting some young game-fan into this pic, with popcorn and Raisinetes in hand, won’t be earning a Flawless Victory in the parenting arena.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.