The stakes are raised in WB Animation’s new sequel to the excellent SCORPION’S REVENGE
Last year Warner Bros Animation surprised fans with an incredible new animated film in the vein of their successful DC Universe lineup. The framework of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge approximated the same tournament as the original game and the 1995 Paul W. S Anderson film, but told from a unique perspective: that of Hanzo Hasashi — the tragic hero/antihero known as Scorpion.
With the followup Battle of the Realms, things go in a direction I wouldn’t expect: rather than naturally progressing the story to a logical next iteration drawing from 25 years of storylines, it almost feels like it “skips to the end”.
Battle of the Realms feels more like the last chapter in a multi-film franchise than a direct sequel, which is a surprising choice given that this series feels like it could have real legs.
As the realms of Earth and Outworld battle in an unending war (occupying most of the “good guys” cast like Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax Briggs, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Stryker, and others), Earthrealm’s protector Raiden and Outworld emperor Shao Kahn agree upon a final solution: another Mortal Kombat Tournament. Only this time instead of perpetuating the cycle, they agree it will be the final battle for the fate of the universe: winner takes all.
Elsewhere, the Lin Kuei ninja faction is experiencing an internal shakeup: when Kuai Liang (who takes up the mantle of Sub-Zero) and Smoke learn that their grandmaster is enacting an insane plan to transform their members into cyborgs, they decide to fly the coop rather than lose their humanity.
Meanwhile, Sub-Zero’s nemesis Scorpion learns of an evil plot by the mad god Shinnok to release an ancient evil force which was long ago imprisoned. If released, it could bring about the end of all the realms.
The multi-pronged nature of this setup contributes to the climatic vibe. It’s similar to The Return of the Jedi in that the large cast of main characters, now established to the audience, is split off into different subplots, each of which is of equal weight and will converge at the film’s climax.
For readers unfamiliar with the games, these wild subplots probably sound pretty crazy — but this is pretty typical Mortal Kombat fare, rounding up some of the games’ best storylines.
Whereas Scorpion’s Revenge was based on the classic games (mostly the first one), Battle of the Realms incorporates many elements from the most recent ones: siege warfare, familiar “stages” and characters, appearances by the Elder Gods, a plot development concerning a merging of the realms, and even Liu Kang showing up in his evolved “Fire God” mode.
The best aspect of the film is its handling of its large cast of characters, ably voiced by a great cast. Two primary pairings are especially memorable.
Mortal Kombat fans often wonder how Sonya Blade (Jennifer Carpenter) could end up with a flashy and but empty-headed blowhard like Johnny Cage (Joel McHale), but their chemistry here is really special: he as the idiot constantly failing to woo her, and she rolling her eyes at his terrible advances— but still kind of enjoying it, especially when she realizes the sincerity of his affection.
Meanwhile, faced with the threat of an extinction-level event on a universal scale, enemies Scorpion and Sub-Zero invoke a truce and work together, making an incredible team. They don’t oversell it, but it feels like the start of a Rocky III style bromance, and that’s a beautiful thing. The way this plays out is really tremendous, and again this hinges on one battle-hardened warrior realizing another character’s sincerity is genuine.
Better relationships through sincerity is the beating heart of a Mortal Kombat movie.
How incredible is that?
But fear not, it’s still Mortal Kombat — and speaking of beating hearts, it has all the over the top fountains of gore, special moves and finishers, bone-crunching “X-ray” moves, and other violent stuff that you expect. Even more, I think, than the prior movie (which had a lot).
I’ve mentioned the climactic nature of the film but it bears repeating. The story’s setup of a final tournament certainly raises the stakes, and honestly I’m surprised at some of the decisions they made — some very beloved fan-favorite characters die horrible, violent deaths. Characters that I would expect the franchise to try to keep around for future movies. I’d like to see this reimagining of the Mortal Kombat universe continue but it feels like this is made to be a duology — the story comes to what seems a pretty definitive conclusion, and it’s hard to see how they could continue from here.
If that’s the case, I can’t really be upset about it. I’m quite fond of both the 1995 and 2021 live action movies, but this pair of films is Mortal Kombat at its sprawling, violent, character-driven best.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is new to home video this week. The 4K UHD Blu-ray version of the film includes a 4K UHD disc, Blu-ray disc (with bonus features), and Movies Anywhere digital copy.
My copy came with an attractive glossy metallic slipcover.
Special Features and Extras
The God and the Dragon: Battling for Earthrealm (7:05)
The making-of documentary analyzes the film’s concept and placement as a sequel, its and some behind-the-scenes looks at the production artwork and storyboards. Contains major spoilers so watch it only after the movie.
Voices of Kombat (8:34)
Featurette with the voice cast including Joel McHale (Johnny Cage), Jennifer Carpenter (Sonya Blade), Patrick Seitz (Scorpion), and Jordan Rodrigues (Liu Kang)
Kombat Gags (4:06)
More time hanging out with the voice cast as they goof around and have fun cracking jokes — especially with Joel McHale who’s clearly having a blast constantly ad-libbing. Scorpion likes cat videos.
Get it at Amazon:
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.