GOOD Morning Wilton‘s movie reviewer, Sebastian Hunt, is a senior at Wilton High School who loves film and television and hopes to become a filmmaker himself one day. He’s already gotten a jump start on that, producing his own screenplays and planning on submitting his work to film festivals. You can learn more about Sebastian on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

There are certain mind-melting, intellectually confounding questions in life. Does man have free will? Why do we dream? What did Bill Murray say to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation? And now, as of 2021:  How does one make a film about intergalactic, superpowered space samurais totally boring?

Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat plays like a 110-minute answer to that question. It is not really a big screen realization of the classic game series — that might’ve been entertaining, if in a pulpy sort of way (like I’d argue the 1995 version was). Rather, Mortal Kombat feels more akin to an under-budgeted cinematic read-aloud of the game’s instruction manual. I have seldom seen a more tedious, painfully drab film based on an intellectual property; I’m tempted to call the abysmal 1993 Super Mario Bros. film a superior video game adaptation.

Co-authored by Wonder Woman 1984’s David Callaham, Mortal Kombat follows fading MMA star Cole Young (Lewis Tan) struggling to rehabilitate his career. Cole’s relatively banal life is quickly upended, however, when ninja-like metahumans emerge from interdimensional portals and begin a ruthless pursuit of Cole and his family. With the help of former military operative Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and foulmouthed mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole uncovers his destiny as one of Earth’s fabled “champions”: an elite group of individuals meant to represent and defend Earth in a grand, celestial fighting tournament.

One of the biggest problems afflicting Mortal Kombat is its drab, eyesore visual direction. This is Mortal Kombat in “gritty reboot” land — nearly every aspect of the game’s rich visual mythology has been reimagined to fit a more mundane, faux-realistic aesthetic vision. Furthermore, the action sequences are grounded in over-lit and incredibly cheap-looking sets.

Yet the poor production design might have been forgivable, if Mortal Kombat’s characters were three-dimensional or interesting. They’re not: Tan’s Cole has zero agency, while McNamee’s Sonya and Lawson’s Kano serve as walking archetypes. Callaham’s screenplay, unfortunately, isn’t much better. It is exceptionally uninspired and prioritizes franchise lore and exposition over poignant storytelling or tangible character arcs.

Perhaps I’m coming off as harsh, but keep in mind, I’m about as predisposed to enjoy a martial arts flick as anyone. I love ninjas, samurais, swords, the whole shebang — but Mortal Kombat simply made me want to commit seppuku. I’d recommend checking out the original version, instead.

“Mortal Kombat” is out in theaters and on HBO Max.

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Transformers, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Super 8, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Pretty in Pink, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, Do the Right Thing, Toy Story, Parasite)