There really is so much about the Mortal Kombat video game series that I have come to love since y very first discovery of its original arcade version. Now a lot of time has passes since that 1992 version of me standing in awe of this brutally no holds barred fighting game including many more video games, a couple of reboots to the series and the universe expanding even more with comic books, graphic novels, TV shows and animated TV shows. Now whilst the first big screen live action adaptation of Mortal Kombat is still held in high regards by most fans, the sequels definitely did not. One big reason for this is just simply the fact that Mortal Kombat is very hard to translate into live action but what the lore of Mortal Kombat does suit is animation, and from the same studio that has brought the DC universe to light, WB Animation has now taken the first steps into doing the same with Mortal Kombat.
When it comes to Mortal Kombat, amongst the massive roster of characters and all the relationships and story arcs they have, it will also come down to the iconic rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero for me. Their story will always standout for me and has done in every single video game where it has been explored but sadly big screen versions and TV shows have never actually focused on their story until now, as this animated adaptation puts Scorpion’s origin story at the heart of the narrative and the opening ten minutes is just what I had hoped for.
The opening to the film features Hanzo Hasashi, voiced incredibly by Patrick Seitz, out with his young son giving him a life lesson about the will to carry on fighting no matter who against you the odds of the fight may be. Conveniently and perhaps far too cheesy for the audience, the example is that of a wild scorpion is being attacked by a colony of deadly ants, with the son fearing the scorpion would be killed but instead it continues to fight back and soon the ants are in retreat with the scorpion now with the upper hand. With the oh so introduction of the Scorpion metaphor out the way, we see Hanzo and son return to their home only to discover that their rival clan, the Lin Kuie led by Sub Zero have attacked in their absence and killed everyone causing Hanzo to rush to his home where he finds his wife and family murdered. Rage overcomes him and he lashes out at the remaining Lin Kuei warriors, reaping their lives in true ultra-violent ways before he is stopped in his tracks as Sub Zero has his son, ordering Hanzo to drop to his knees, which he does only for Sub Zero to murder his son before his eyes. Vowing vengeance but encased in the ice Sub Zero trapped him in, Hanzo is only able to face his final moments with fury and rage before Sub Zero kills him as well.
I need to really begin by saying how much I love the animation and visual style used for this adaptation with its almost Todd McFarlene style of dark shadows and vibrant colours. By using animation, it manages to do something that is really lost in the use of CGI for a live action film or TV show, it gets the ultra-violence that fans of the games will be accustomed to absolutely spot on. Make no mistakes, this is very much an adult orientated film so be mindful before letting your youngsters watch it, even if they know the video game. The animators even included the X-ray moves from the most recent Mortal Kombat games in very brutal fashion and it is rather glorious to see it as it shows an intent not to water down the source material which other adaptations have had to do. The violence is graphic and it is visceral and it is beautiful brought to life in the animation throughout the film.
The story is where I sadly have to take issues with this film because it does forget the title it has far too much once the opening sequence has finished. I was hoping this would remain a Scorpion focused film but sadly he has to share his story with the retelling of the Mortal Kombat origin as well. It is not long before we are taken to Raiden gathering the heroes of Earth to take part in Mortal Kombat. As fans will know, Outworld has won the last nine Mortal Kombat tournaments and only need one more victory in order to gain entry to invade Earth Realm. We see Liu Kang who has been training his whole life for this tournament, Sonya Blade who is searching for Kano in order to save the now captured Jaxx and Johnny Cage who in this story is an action hero out of favour and is so desperate to find another hit role that he spends almost the entire tournament believing it is a film set with a lot of improvisation. I do understand that much like how the DC Animated Universe had to setup their own Justice League, you do have to provide the audience who may not actually know the video game series or lore, the set up as to what the Mortal Kombat story actually is.
But it just feels strange to cut away from Scorpion’s story and even more when it goes from being the initial focus of the narrative to being cut in-between tournament sections. We do get to see how Hanzo became Scorpion which is very cool to see on screen as following the opening we then see him being tortured in the NetherRealm, where after fighting his way through a legion of NetherRealm warriors, Hanzo confronts the Sorcerer Quan Chi, who tasks Hanzo with a mission and if he succeeds, he will see himself and his family returned to life. After this we next see Scorpion as everyone gathers on Shang Tsung’s island for the tournament, now fully transformed into Scorpion. There was certainly a missed opportunity to see the actual process of Hanzo becoming Scorpion, being given his hell fire abilities instead it simply jumps to be the classic Scorpion fans will instantly recognise.
Now it has to be said that the writing for this story has done the clever thing by changing certain aspects of the story up including character interactions to make them more refreshed such as the Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade romance with Sonya seeing Johnny has just flaky washed up actor with terrible chat up lines for the most part with the gradual softening of her demeanour as Johnny Cage becomes more of the fighter we know him to be than the arrogant failing Hollywood star. Cage has some of the best comedic dialogue in the game which is exactly how he should be and his journey from start to end is well told. In fact, all of the characters are so well written and performed by the brilliant voice cast that I do expect this to be a very successful run of films in this universe.
Though the narrative of Scorpion seeking his revenge takes a back seat for that of the tournament and the way in which his story is rather clumsily used to bookend the story itself, it is still a highly enjoyable opening chapter in a series of films, which going by the not so surprising ending, is likely to at least get a sequel. In the just shy run time of two hours, they manage to both give an origin story to Mortal Kombat and to Scorpion as well as lay the groundwork for future story arcs for the characters. Sadly it is very noticeable when the title of the film is ‘Scorpion’s Revenge’ and with such a tremendous opening that focused on the character that when the story moves away from him to tell the rest of the story, it is very noticeable that Scorpion is not there, even the ending which has an attempt at a twist to the how this Mortal Kombat tournament that launched the video game series, felt more “oh he’s back” instead of a big wow moment.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is a solid adaptation of a large video game universe and has a style of animation that compliments the video games incredibly well. I really do hope this is just the first of many films set in this universe but I hope if they do decide to have a character’s name in the title that they spend as much time with them and allow the story to really showcase that story instead of burying it under the bigger picture. Scorpion is such an iconic character and his origin story is well told, it just could have been so much more in this film rather than the focus shifting to the Tournament and ultimately setting up the sequel. Fans of the games will get a real kick out of this and for those like me who have really enjoyed the DC Animation series from WB Animation, this is another example of how animated films can accomplish far more than the live action versions.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge will be available digitally from April 14th and on physical release from April 27th from your favourite retailer.