You’ve been warned.
This is not a good movie. (That’s not the spoiler.) Don’t be fooled by the slick trailer or well-meaning but woefully misguided acquaintances. This movie is not worth an hour and 50 minutes of your time. It is worth precisely 11 minutes of your time. I know this because I timed it.
The aforementioned first 11 minutes.
We open on the Hanzo Hasashi Compound in Japan, 1617. Tokugawa period setting means one thing: some epicness is about to go down. A society so emotionally repressed that a husband has to surreptitiously lean into his wife to whisper, “I like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” for fear someone in his household staff should overhear him acting like he even knows the woman? Yes, please. (What he actually says is quite lovely and I would be so blessed should someone ever express such a sentiment about me.) After he hies off to fetch more buckets of water, we get a close up on Chekhov’s kunai: lightweight and versatile, it is the discerning old timey Japanese farmer’s and ninja’s implement of choice. Hanzo’s wife is using it to plant some … plants and Hanzo will later fashion his “Scorpion tail” weapon out of it and some rope and then lay total and bloody waste to Bi-Han’s henchmen.
Bi-Han, later Sub-Zero, (who I resorted to calling Bi-Itch as the movie wore on because I am 12 years old, evidently) clearly has some kind of age old grudge to settle with Hasashi and his entire bloodline. As far as we non game playing viewers go, he’s some kind of amalgamated Kung Fu master with a nasty attitude and supernatural powers who relishes menacing women and children with his icicle hands.
There’s so much pathos and genuine emotion when Hanzo finds his wife and son slaughtered and encased in ice; that moment of tenderness he and his wife shared earlier now eclipsed by their murder. Hiroyuki Sanada does a lot of silent heavy lifting here and earns even more of his paycheck when his face hardens, and he turns into ninja terminator on a dime. Straight stabbing dudes through the crown of the head! You could give me three hours of this and I wouldn’t tire of it. The grace and precision with which Hanzo slices and dices his foes set against the idyllic setting of his home now defiled deserves a chef’s kiss; the geysers of blood more artful than gory also earns a hat tip.
I cackled at Bi-Han giving his speech, gloating about exterminating Hanzo’s bloodline and Hanzo’s like, “Yeah, no idea what you’re saying ‘cause I don’t understand Chinese, but I’m gonna lay down a whooping on you all the same.” Did Bi-Han tell his Japanese language tutor, “Yo, I need just enough Japanese to terrorize Hasashi’s wife and kid, but I don’t wanna have to memorize my whole triumphant screed about how I’m finally gonna succeed at eradicating his bloodline. He can probably figure that out from context anyway.” Did he learn to say two things: Where is the bathroom and where is Hanzo? Tourists, man. Hanzo was probably like, “Are you still mad I didn’t invite you out to karaoke that one time? It was totally last minute and they were my college buddies who you don’t know anyway. Slaughtering my family is kind of a disproportionate response, don’t you think?”
The fight choreography in this opening sequence was stellar with both Hanzo and Bi-Han near flawless in their fighting styles. Had they kept the rest of the movie as the story between these two foes, it would have been a far better viewing experience. Unfortunately for Hanzo and all of us because it meant the birth of the rest of this, for lack of a better word, “story,” Bi-Han does succeed in delivering the killing blow thereby depriving us of the best character in this whole movie. You’re the worst, Bi-Itch. The worst.
THE WORST (Besides Bi-Han)
The rest of this movie.
The first eleven minutes is what suckered me into watching the whole thing as I vainly hoped that rad opening wasn’t just a fluke. It was just a fluke. It’s like two different movies Frankensteined together. And like Frankenstein’s monster, it leads to disaster. Everything after Raiden makes his attention whoring entrance with a cheesy lighting display and engages in some light babynapping is a boring generic mess that nobody, not even the characters themselves, cares about. You can see the will to live ebbing from their expressions with each passing scene. Kung Lao, who gets his soul sucked away by Shang Tsung, was probably wishing it could have happened several scenes earlier just to free himself from this steaming pile of fetid nonsense that’s been fermenting in the hot sun so long that not even the raccoons will give it a glance.
No, giving this an R rating doesn’t make it a less sucky movie. It just makes it a terrible movie with f bombs and blood spattered around. So like when you carpet bomb the bathroom with some floral scented room spray after annihilating the commode with the remains of your Taco Bell extravaganza. You only made the doo doo smell worse by hot gluing dead rotten flowers to your turd grenades and now the stench is clinging to your clothes and hair making you radioactive for the next week.
To be fair, there’s probably enough for fans of the game to enjoy here. There are a ton of fights, all of them bloody, all of them fatal, though no actual tournament. All game characters deliver their signature finishing moves so there’s plenty for past players to feel nostalgic about and present players to feel smug about since they can point out all the Easter eggs to their non playing friends who, trust me, do NOT care.
The character of Cole Young, predictably a MMA fighter past his prime and instantly forgettable, (played by Lewis Tan who auditioned for Marvel’s Shang-Chi but lost out to Simu Liu because they wanted a lead with comedic chops, if that and the casting of Awkwafina gives you an indication of the tone of that movie) isn’t an in-game character and was created specifically for this film. Which makes me ask why the character had to be a dude at all? Why couldn’t we have an ass kicking female descendant of Hanzo’s defending Earthrealm from Outworld’s incursions? Did they think viewers would be confused since Hanzo’s daughter was the sole survivor, and we’d think the present day character, hundreds of years later, is his actual daughter? Or did they think that one Earthrealm lady fighter in the form of Sonya Blade was more than enough? I shouldn’t have to point out how stupid that is. If you can have five (four and then three depending on where you are in the movie) dudes as Earthrealm’s champions, you can have two ladies at minimum. That was a missed opportunity.
The most annoying part of this movie is not that the majority of it was so terrible, it makes you lose all faith in humanity. It’s that there was a much better story lurking around the edges of this devil’s spawn gift that keeps on giving. Hanzo Hasashi was on screen for a fraction of the entire movie’s run time and yet he was a much more compelling character than all of Earthrealm’s champions put together. I would have much preferred to watch his backstory leading up to Bi-Han’s attack on his home and/or his journey to hell and how he conquered its fires. Stop teasing me with these poseur badasses when you had the real deal engaging in awesomeness off camera. It’s like the John Wick movies without John Wick, just a bunch of rando assassins.
They’re planning four more movies, hoping to capture some MCU style magic and box office success, but that’s easily six movies too many. Just give me one movie focused solely on Hanzo Hasashi and I might forgive you the atrocity that was this first one.