Review: Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms
The first Mortal Kombat Legends animated movie, Scorpion’s Revenge, was essentially a riff on Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 live-action film, with creature effects and R-rated gore he couldn’t possibly have done back then. Mercifully, the sequel, Battle of the Realms, is no Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Though they share some of the same loose plot beats.
Conceived in secret at the same time as the first film, it puts Liu Kang front and center as the chosen one, starting with a flashback depicting his infancy. Following a few irrelevant new plot beats the set-up becomes, basically, another tournament, bigger and with more characters. Plus another side quest for Scorpion that’s, you guessed it, bigger and with more characters.
To answer the most likely questions from casual viewers: yes, it’s pretty important to have seen the first film. Basic knowledge of the games will also help a lot; there is no plot hand-holding or recap here. And even viewers who know the mythology might get confused. As in the games, plot mostly serves as the thinnest of devices to get to the next fight. But it’s also wildly inconsistent.
Why do some characters have to de-power to enter the tournament, while others do not? Why don’t all the matches end in fatalities? Where does that one character suddenly find the strength he could have used all along? What the hell is actually happening in the third act, and what motivated it? Some answers can be found on the extras or in the commentary. But it’s probably best, as a viewer, to assume the answer to everything is, “Because it’s cool, Beavis! Shut up!”
Not unlike certain real-life individuals, Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn has trouble accepting the results of a free and fair contest. So he sends in all of his grotesque followers to create mass chaos until he essentially gets a do-over. Meanwhile, the mad god Shinnok plots to destroy all of reality because, well, he’s mad. Don’t think too deeply about that one.
The point is to fill the screen with as many gory finishing moves as possible, often involving x-ray-style close-ups of interior organs and bones collapsing. It’s not as novel this time around, but it’s still over-the-top fun, with a hefty dose of “Is American animation really doing this?” Just to make a further point, characters swear constantly. Including a rather notable The Empire Strikes Back riff:
“I love you!”
Like The Suicide Squad, the movie tries to make the viewer think no character is safe. But also like that movie, it makes it pretty easy to guess who has plot armor. On the plus side, the filmmakers did conceive the story as a two-parter, rather than the usual trilogy, so the ending this time feels definite.
On the minus side: what story? Many bits and pieces of lore come up, but they seldom feel fully connected. The entire Lin Kuei subplot exists seemingly just to give Scorpion something extra to do. And Liu Kang’s still rather dull compared to Johnny Cage. Especially Joel McHale as Johnny Cage.
Blu-ray extras include a commentary track featuring producer Rick Morales and writer Jeremy Adams, who mostly geek out about what Warner Bros. let them get away with. In both this audio and a featurette on the making of the movie, they also fill in some of the narrative gaps that never quite get explained. Finally, a “gag reel” features Joel McHale improvising off-script in the audio booth.
The real uphill fight Battle of the Realms faces is that, unlike Scorpion’s Revenge a year ago, it now competes for eyeballs with a live-action, R-rated reboot. And if the main point of the movie is gory kills (it is, in both instances), why wouldn’t the viewer choose a more gruesome live-action take?
For the hardcore Mortal Kombat fan, perhaps, there’s no need to pick when marathoning all of them is an option. And that’s who WB made this movie for. If you get the Internet meme in-joke in the opening logo, you’re in the right place.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, and digital.
Recommended Reading: Mortal Kombat X Vol. 3: Blood Island
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