Studio: WB Animation
Director: Ethan Spaulding
Writer: Jeremy Adams
Producer: Rick Morales
Stars: Jennifer Carpenter, Joel McHale, Ike Amadi, Steve Blum, Artt Butler, Darin De Paul, Robin Atkin Downes, Grey Griffin, David B. Mitchell, Jordan Rodrigues, Patrick Seitz
Scorpion enters the Mortal Kombat tournament alongside Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Liu Kang to take revenge against Sub-Zero for slaughtering his family.
How do you not fall instantly in love with a movie whose opening logo sequence features Mortal Kombat¡¯s Scorpion strangling Daffy Duck while gloriously growling, ¡°get over here!¡±
R-rated animated features based on pop culture properties can be tricky business. Warner Bros. Animation has tried it a few times with the Caped Crusader and met mixed results. ¡°Justice League Dark¡± (review here) stands out as an exceptional effort, although not for being aimed at older audiences. ¡°Batman: The Killing Joke¡± (review here) forcibly slammed unneeded obscenities into dialogue, which felt oddly out of place even in a story framed for implied sexual assault. ¡°Batman: Gotham by Gaslight¡± (review here) barely seemed to deserve its R-rating, spurring some to wonder why the film didn¡¯t just lean into its ¡°adults only¡± label and go even harder on content.
For ¡°Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± on the other hand, an R-rating fits like a comfortably snug glove. ¡°Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± nestles naturally into a ¡®just right¡¯ Goldilocks sweet spot where four-letter words aren¡¯t fighting to sound edgy, and mature mayhem doesn¡¯t disappoint fans anxious to bask in the brutality that ¡°Mortal Kombat¡± is known and loved for.
¡°Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± shrewdly sticks to what made the ¡°Mortal Kombat¡± moniker infamous by delivering a slaughter-filled yet slick style of animated action. Fatalities sometimes switch to slow motion. X-ray freeze frames highlight exploding eyeballs and shattering skulls. The film doesn¡¯t let a single blood drop get lost in furious flurries, always ensuring your eyes can soak up visual violence while creative audio effects pump out squirm-worthy bone crunches and agonizing tendon tears.
At the same time, eviscerations and decapitations stay stylized for cartoon fantasy. Blood bursts everywhere, yet severed limbs and sliced faces aren¡¯t designed to be gratuitously gruesome. Instead of being detailed with disgustingly spilled guts, anatomies are conceived simply and colored cleanly so it¡¯s the action that¡¯s exciting, not so much the gory end result.
If there¡¯s any issue to be had with the carnage, it¡¯s that there isn¡¯t enough variety to the torn spines and torsos to make for many memorable murders. As sometimes happens in films built around repetitive fighting, by the time we arrive at the ending, the full-speed spectacle of kung fu kicking and weapon wielding can get exhaustingly long in the tooth too.
It¡¯s not all about explosive eye candy though. ¡°Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± has a solid, albeit simple, story packed behind its punch. Scorpion¡¯s origin has him seeking vengeance against who else, Sub-Zero, and this generation¡¯s Mortal Kombat tournament provides the perfect playground to do so.
A fair deal of exposition falls out onscreen to establish the who, where, and why of the various participants, realms, and stakes involved in the tourney. As much information as there is to bite into, it¡¯s not hard to follow and only includes what¡¯s essential to get each subplot off the ground and high into the air. ¡°Talky scenes¡± motivate confrontations without dousing the pace in meaningless chatter. I¡¯ve played the games sporadically since the original arcade trilogy, so I appreciate the refresher course on people and places like Shang Tsung, Outworld, etc. ¡°Mortal Kombat Legends¡± does a great job of balancing background bits so the movie remains as accessible to newbies as it is to the franchise faithful.
¡°Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± also includes plenty of favorite fighters in featured roles, yet not so many that the film feels cluttered with characters. Some key entities are held back or only referenced in conversation. But keeping gas in the tank positions potential sequels to expand the mythology without playing every card right out of the gate.
Voice acting is almost unilaterally excellent, adding depth to characters who could otherwise become interchangeable punching machines. Only Liu Kang comes off as boringly bland. Jennifer Carpenter brings legitimate licks of emotional dimension so Sonya Blade isn¡¯t merely a one-note outlet for aggression. Vin Diesel and ¡®The Trailer Guy¡¯ have nothing on Darin De Paul¡¯s great Grand Canyon growl as Quan Chi. Even Joel McHale, who I feared might be too much of a nonchalant jokester, perfectly embodies Johnny Cage as a conceited celebrity schmuck whose comic relief warms up to be unexpectedly endearing.
My only real quibble has to do with how Sonya and Johnny¡¯s individual arcs intersect. Starting out as an obliviously arrogant a-hole, something like a younger but fun James Woods, Johnny essentially has to evolve beyond being a narcissistic loudmouth. Sonya¡¯s flashbacks show her enduring sexist attitudes and adversity to excel as a top soldier in a male-dominated military. She and Johnny overcome contention and one-sided romantic attraction to eventually team up, but it comes from a moment where Sonya suddenly goes from bold badass to a distressed damsel Johnny has to rescue. The gender difference makes this an outdated tactic for giving them their resolution. It¡¯s also disappointing to suggest Sonya can¡¯t handle herself solo, especially considering Kitana is the only other featured woman, and she unceremoniously yields to Liu Kang in the film¡¯s limpest faceoff.
Sub-Zero has always been my go-to MK guy since he¡¯s who I beat the early games with and his is the only move set I mostly remember. But Scorpion¡¯s hardcore story and wicked depiction in the movie bearing his name makes me want to switch my allegiance after all these years. That¡¯s how much of a killer character ¡°Mortal Kombat Legends¡± makes Scorpion out to be.
¡°Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion¡¯s Revenge¡± moves fast and fluidly. Each character possesses unique color as a powerful personality. Action continuously contributes to a consistently eye-catching adventure. I almost can¡¯t believe an animated film that¡¯s 80 minutes of nearly nonstop fighting can be this wildly entertaining.
Review Score: 85