One thing you forget about in a yearlong pause from a lifetime of frequent moviegoing is how the big screen can overwhelm you in a way a TV or computer cannot.
There's a reason "Mortal Kombat" actually makes sense on a smaller screen — it is, after all, inspired by a video game. But in a theater where it's loud and huge, it seems to come at you in waves of flying fists, spurting blood and severed body parts. Which is, of course, the question anybody who might want to see "Mortal Kombat" is asking: How's the kombat? The answer is: mortal. And nonstop.
The movie is nothing but fight scenes, and that's probably how fans want it. At the climax, there's so much hand-to-hand combat going on — or, in one case, hand-to-prosthetic-because-his-hand-was-lopped-off — that director Simon McQuoid has to cut between five simultaneous battles.
The movie earns its R rating with those fights, which are grisly. But they're staged clearly and intelligently, like the big dance numbers in a musical. (Speaking of music, the film closes with a track whose only lyric is the game's iconic "Finish him!")
"Mortal Kombat" was made to service fans, rather than to attract new ones. The mythology is overly complicated and the characters are given the kind of entrances granted to characters whom audiences are expected to already know. Most are "champions" who come to a gladiator training camp where they face off in order to learn their hidden superpowers. They are the same sort of powers you get if you're an X-man: invisibility, an eye laser beam, super-strength, etc.
In between pummeling and beheading one another, there's a bit of back story connecting champion Cole Young (Lewis Tan) to his similarly superpowered ancestors. Characters occasionally pause to bark out dialogue that could become a line of greeting cards for the toxically masculine: "Pain is the ultimate catalyst," "Prove to yourself you can do it or you'll regret it for the rest of your life" and that sort of thing.
It's ridiculous but the movie has a sense of humor about it, with most of the best lines given to an Aussie lunkhead named Kano (Josh Lawson). He gets to have the most fun, tossing off so many mean pop culture references ("Put a shirt on, Magic Mike!" he yells at a ripped competitor) and insensitive insults that you know his politically incorrect character is not going to last long in this extremely diverse movie.
He won't be around for any possible "Mortal Kombat" sequels but it's clear the moviemakers are hoping for some. The movie ends with another of those insider-y references that flew right over this non-gamer's head but, when I looked it up later, I discovered it's a nod to a character fans will probably be psyched to see in the next movie.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for very bloody violence and strong language.
Theater: Wide release and on HBO Max.