Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge Is Gleefully Gory
Although Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge begins with the Warner Bros. Animation logo, it sets the tone early with Daffy Duck hooting and hollering before Scorpion emerges and appears to strangle him. It’s a fitting opening for a film that is frequently so insanely violent that it makes the average Quentin Tarantino movie look like Tom and Jerry. This R-rated, direct-to-video movie captures the anarchic feel of martial arts grindhouse flicks like Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki and the style of classic anime. It’s rare to see gore like this in a major American studio cartoon. However, the story is very much one viewers have likely seen before. It’s basically a remake of the 1995 live-action Mortal Kombat with a few minor changes.
The title suggests that the story of the otherworldly martial-arts tournament will be told from the point of view of Scorpion, an undead ninja with a vendetta. And that’s true for a while. Beginning with a Wild Bunch homage featuring a scorpion fighting ants, the story drops the viewer in feudal Japan. A feudal Japan, incidentally, that looks pretty much like the version in Kubo and the Two Strings. Hanzo Hasashi’s family is brutally murdered, and his subsequent death sets the film in motion. In the hellish Netherrealm, a demon suspiciously similar to South Park‘s Satan torments Hanzo. But then he makes a deal to get his revenge on Sub-Zero by attending the signature tournament to retrieve a magical key.
And then, the story becomes the same one that’s been seen many times before. Actor Johnny Cage, monk Liu Kang, and soldier Sonya Blade board a boat, where the thunder god Raiden prepares them for Mortal Kombat. From there, the film follows that trio– the usual protagonists in the MK games — leaving Scorpion to only occasionally make appearances
This likely won’t be a big deal for Mortal Kombat fans. One of the side effects of multiple character fighting games is that players develop attachments to more than one character. But the story of Scorpion and his arch-rival, Sub-Zero, deserves so much more. The two were basically faceless ninjas with powers in the 1995 film, while the games have added far more backstory.
Yet little of it comes to the fore in the film, and Sub-Zero is still a nothing character; a killer with ice spears and no development. The film doesn’t bother to explain who Sub-Zero is or where he comes from. Aside from Reptile, none of the other ninjas show up. With the exception of Quan Chi, Baraka, Kitana, and Motaro’s cameo, the core cast are only characters from the first game.
Casual movie fans may wonder why Scorpion gets established as a protagonist and then gets sidelined. At the same time, how much plot do fans honestly demand from a Mortal Kombat movie? The selling point here is the excess gore that has defined the games, which has been neglected by prior adaptations. In animation, the R-rating isn’t prohibitive in relation to budget. And on that score, Scorpion’s Revenge delivers. In the opening moments alone, Hanzo stabs ninjas in the face, gouges out eyes, and slices live bodies up like hams while x-ray close ups detail every bone snap. This film finally offers the fatalities fans demanded. It’s also paced so the story isn’t wall-to-wall carnage, but the script finds excuses to insert large group fights wherever possible in order to deliver a good massacre.
As for the story, it seems optimized for Joel McHale‘s Johnny Cage, played here as much dorkier than usual. He’s also given a more expressive face than the other characters, as he mugs the camera like Lupin III or Vash the Stampede in a world where everyone else is busy flashing blue steel glances. Depicted as the has-been star of movies like Ninja Mime, Johnny is pointedly a lot less cool than Linden Ashby. Johnny’s chemistry with Jennifer Carpenter’s Sonya Blade consists mostly of her kicking him in the nuts while gratuitously swearing. It’s a nice contrast to Scorpion’s grimdark Batman/Spawn persona.
Frankly, this over-the-top cartoon killfest is the perfect kind of escapism for the quarantine era. It requires relatively little intellectual engagement, while offering visceral exploitation to Itchy and Scratchy levels of hilarity. And it ends with pretty much the same sequel tease as the 1995 live-action Mortal Kombat. As long as the sequel is better than Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, we’ll be happy. But that’s a pretty low bar to cross.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is available on on Digital now, and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on April 28, 2020.