Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms serves as the direct sequel to Scorpion’s Revenge, an animated adaptation of the first Mortal Kombat games. The film was immediately teased and confirmed shortly after last year’s release of Scorpion’s Revenge. The duology marks the first Mortal Kombat animation project since the 1996 series Defenders of the Realms. Along with the recent live-action movie, these films were among the first MK films to be rated R, matching the blood and gore that the fighter games are known for.
Story: A Messy Adaptation
The film starts with a flashback scene to long-time MK protagonist Liu Kang’s origins. The scene itself felt too much like a DC hero’s origins for me to take it seriously. While it’s nice to have some added backstory to our characters, the scene felt too out of place for an MK story. However, I can’t fault it too much. We’re given more insight into Liu Kang’s relationship with Raiden in this adaptation, something that was needed in the games.
After the flashback, we’re thrown right back to where we left off after Scorpion’s Revenge. It’s where we’re shown the central conflict of the movie. Liu Kang, Raiden, and the rest of Earthrealm heroes are thrown into another Mortal Kombat tournament to defeat the series’ villain Shao Khan once and for all. As many long-time fans can tell, this is an adaptation of the second Mortal Kombat game.
The tournament portion had potential, but many of the fights were just a montage of brutal and gory fights. Without spoiling anything, there are character deaths (it’s Mortal Kombat, after all), only it felt confusing how certain characters only kill some characters but leave others alive for no apparent reason. This complaint goes more towards the villain side. Their inconsistent brutality made it hard for me to consider them threats or care about them.
There’s also a B-plot that involves Scorpion and the younger Sub-Zero. This plot revolves around their conflict with Sub-Zero seeking revenge for his brother’s death at Scorpion’s hands. However, that conflict is short-lived when other villains and characters are pushed into the B-plot, making it a mess. Both plots struggled to work together as a whole, making the overall conclusion a let-down.
Characters & Performance: Select your Fighter!
The majority of the cast that was in Scorpion’s Revenge returns for the sequel with newcomers such as Kung Lao and Stryker joining. It was great to see the film make use of Mortal Kombat‘s extensive cast for film, making it a treat for those who played many of the games. However, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much. Many of the newcomers are generally shafted for the main cast that was present in the first film. Fans of Kung Lao, Stryker, and many others would be disappointed at how little they do.
The voice cast was amazing in their roles. Matt Mercer reprises his role as Stryker from 2011’s Mortal Kombat and is a personal favorite of mine. Joel McHale as Johnny Cage is always a treat whenever he’s on-screen. Patrick Seitz will always remain the best Scorpion voice and I’m glad to see that he’s still able to voice the character in these films. However, I would have preferred if Sub-Zero had more screentime compared to his rival. We’ve already had a full movie dedicated to Scorpion, so I think it would be for the best to allow the other characters to shine.
Lessening Scropion’s role could have helped me appreciate Liu Kang as the protagonist this time around. I felt that he needed more development and more scenes shown with Raiden, Kung Lao, and Kitana. Especially the latter since their romantic subplot that started from the first film still felt rushed and forced. To those who aren’t familiar with the games, their romance wouldn’t be as appreciated compared to fans who followed them through various entries in the series.
Pacing and Editing: Not-So Flawless Victory
One of the film’s other main problems is the pacing. It felt like the movie wanted to do so much, but couldn’t balance it all. The tournament suffered especially from it. I struggled to care for some of the emotional scenes and deaths because the film basically skimmed past a few of them to make time for the other plots. The pacing was especially bad towards the end of the film where the subplots merge with the main conflict to set up the final conflict. Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s side plot being shoved into the main conflict felt forced and should have been a plot for another movie.
Despite the bad pacing, the quick transition from fight to fight is done well. There’s hardly a dull moment of the action during the later acts of the film. Those who only desire to see the action will not be too disappointed. Just like in the first film, Battle of the Realms does x-ray cuts to characters’ bones breaking, which is a nice touch and callback to the more recent games that implemented the mechanic.
Cinematography and Sound: Fatality!
Being one of the few first Mortal Kombat movies to be rated R, Battle of the Realms takes clear advantage of that rating. There’s plenty of blood, guts, and all of that gory stuff that MK fans are familiar with. Obvious, it’s not a movie for the faint of heart or people who just don’t like seeing a lot of blood. The fights are well-animated and choreographed, making them a treat to watch. The sound design is especially amazing during the fights. It adds to the brutality of the battles and allows the audience to feel the weight of each injury and death.
Fortunately, the bright colors and animations keep the movie from taking itself too seriously. Gritty Mortal Kombat just doesn’t work given its source material. It’s the same game where the fighters can act all friendly and silly to their enemies instead of ripping off their heads. The fact that Warner Bros. included a Shaggy meme in the beginning shows that they can have fun with this. Perhaps if the story didn’t take itself too seriously, it could have been a much better experience overall.