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Even though I consider myself somewhat of a gamer, I was never the biggest fan of the Mortal Kombat games, probably because I never really knew how to play them. Besides occasional visits to my neighbor's house to play several games on his PlayStation 1 (or 2?), I've only played this game on the nostalgic arcade machines that gave me incredible joy when I was younger. In all honesty, I don't exactly remember if I watched the previous film adaptations of the popular franchise, but I do know that both didn't receive the best feedback from critics and audiences, especially the 1997's flick. Therefore, I went to the theater - first time in over four months - with no real expectations. I just hoped the action would compensate for the predictably flawed screenplay.
All in all, I'm surprised at how much I actually had fun with this movie. Considering this is Simon McQuoid's feature directorial debut, as well as Greg Russo's first screenplay credit, my hopes rested on Dave Callaham's previous works (Wonder Woman 1984, Zombieland: Double Tap) and on the gory, violent action sequences. The latter component is the best element in the entire film, which will definitely leave the viewers in search of action-heavy entertainment satisfied. The opening sequence shows the merciless brutality of each fight through phenomenal stunt work (Hiroyuki Sanada is impressively talented), long takes with exceptional choreography, and a shocking amount of blood - something quite characteristic of the game franchise.
The only negative aspect about this opening is the fact that no other action scene surpasses it, which doesn't mean that the rest of the battles fail to live up to the expectations of the most avid fans. Despite a few shaky, roughly edited scenes, the vast majority of the fights are easy to follow and feature jaw-dropping moments, such as the "Fatality!" finishing moves. McQuoid and his team of writers try to make the movie understandable and exciting to everyone, but if there's a chance of placing a reference, an Easter Egg, or something alike, they proudly and unrestrainedly present it to the audience, which will trigger the most hardcore fans to let go of a resounding, adrenaline-fueled "YEAH!".
I admit that I didn't expect the film to deliver those epic announcements from the game. From "Flawless Victory!" to "Fatality!", without forgetting the classic "Fight!", I did smile during these moments, where the actors actually change the tone of their voice to mimic the famous one-liners. Is it extraordinarily cheesy and over-the-top? Of course. Would any fan want it any other way? It might be a tad too much for some viewers, but I have to compliment McQuoid for fully committing to this adaptation. There's no ounce of shame, regret, or restraint. It's a movie made with a passionate public in mind, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to every single fan of the games.
I firmly believe people will end up liking or disliking this film based on how much the action compensates for the lack of a compelling story, which is something even the most enthusiastic fans are probably anticipating as well. From a couple of nonsensical narrative decisions to hollow, uninteresting characters, the screenplay is solely focused on explaining everything surrounding Mortal Kombat - Earthworld, Outworld, champions, stakes, rules of the tournament - through lazy yet admittedly efficient exposition scenes. The characters could have been better developed, and the actors are far from being completely convincing. However, no one will enter the theater or click "play" on HBO Max expecting to witness an Oscar-worthy story...
Mortal Kombat is a surprisingly decent adaptation of the popular franchise, which will leave the most hardcore fans quite satisfied. For viewers with no experience or knowledge about the games, it could be a tough watch. However, if all the audience seeks is action-heavy entertainment, then Simon McQuoid's directorial debut fulfills the more reasonable expectations. Packed with references that even the least avid gamers will recognize, the fighting scenes are mostly well-filmed and quite energetic, focusing more on the gruesome, bloody, jaw-dropping Fatalities. Despite the opening sequence being the peak of great action, there are a couple of moments that could be compared to some parts of that epic start. Story-wise, Greg Russo and Dave Callaham's screenplay is as flawed as expected, possessing ridiculous developments and an abundance of dull exposition scenes, but it's the underwhelming use of a few interesting characters that negatively impacts the movie the most. In the end, I definitely recommend it to fans of the franchise, who will surely appreciate this film a lot more than myself.