Review: ‘Mortal Kombat’ is gleefully gory, but mostly for fans of the video games

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Mortal Kombat'

In 1992, Midway Games set out to develop the goriest video game ever, a bloodier alternative to “Street Fighter” with over-the-top blood splatter of gruesome fatalities.

It was so successful that it sparked a 1995 movie adaptation and even a 1997 sequel.

This Friday, a brand new “Mortal Kombat” hits theaters and HBO Max for a bloody action movie that will make fans of the video game squeal with glee, even if non-fans can skip it.

The plot follows MMA fighter Cole Young, who rounds up Earth’s greatest champions to prevent the invasion of enemies from another evil dimension known as the Outworld.

Screenwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callaham do a great job of slowly introducing the characters. It’s tricky to introduce so many — “Suicide Squad” (2016) failed miserably at this — but “Mortal Kombat” finds the right balance without sacrificing the journey.

While protagonist Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a newcomer, the casting is spot-on for Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Shang Tsung (Chin Han), Kung Lao (Max Huang), Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim).

Sadly, we don’t get the killer characters of Kitana or Baraka, though there is a shoutout to Johnny Cage. The “chosen ones” cleverly sport a dragon symbol, growing up thinking it’s a birthmark or tattoo before realizing they’re destined to save the world. It’s even cooler how this symbol is able to be transferred like a WWE title belt upon defeating your foes.

On the downside, the script could have done a better job of explaining why the two worlds are engaged in a fighting tournament. We get some semblance of a backstory with a Moses-style intro in 17th century Japan, but the first kill is confusing, thinking someone has died off screen, only to cut to that same character alive in another location.

Alas, this is not why we are here! We came to watch the bloody battles!

Filmmaker Simon McQuoid makes his directorial debut with awesome fight sequences, particularly the opening battle between Scorpion and Sub-Zero (“Get over here!”). Several fatalities are straight from the video game, including Kano echoing “Temple of Doom” and Kung Lao slinging the razor-bladed brim of his hat for the film’s best kill.

Fans of the game will eat it up, especially as a voice says, “Flawless victory.” Even “Street Fighter” loyalists like myself will giggle with glee at the rush of nostalgia. “Oh yeah! I remember that guy!” “I totally forgot about that finishing move!” “Whoa, that setting was in the video game!” (Sorry, no secret “Toasties,” “Babalities” or “Friendships”).

I have no idea how this will play to someone who didn’t grow up with the video game. Will Baby Boomers be lost? Will Millennials lack the nostalgia? Probably, but those of us who grew up between those generations in the ’80s and ’90s will want to shout, “Finish him!”

3 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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