Still, every time Shang Tsung or Raiden show up on screen, they are going to command the attention of anyone remotely familiar with the game series. Let’s break down how well the movie represented these famous fighters.
Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee)
Sonya was a surprise. In the games, she is a decorated special agent. Here, she lives in a trailer, the walls of which are covered in Mortal Kombat-related conspiracy theories. The movie seems to want us to know that she’s really hurting for money.
McNamee’s portrayal is probably the furthest from the original Sonya, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Unlike the rest of the cast, Sonya is the only one who has to “earn” her powers. Is it a commentary on gender inequality? (Probably not.) The movie at least retains the original character’s central conflict with Kano, her mortal enemy. Their backstory is much different here, but they eventually clash, and it makes for one of the more personal fights of the film. Plus, the way McNamee portrayed Sonya finally getting her powers felt cathartic.
Kano (Josh Lawson)
Hands down, the Australian comedian has the best role in the film. I’m not sure I would’ve liked the film as much without Kano. The other characters struggled for relevance in light of the new protagonist, but Kano gave off so much chaotic energy, everyone else was made interesting by osmosis. I mean that almost literally, as I understood Liu Kang’s self-serious and naive traits the second he touched Kano’s shoulder, and Kano reacted in hilarious, profane bewilderment.
Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim)
The ice-cold ninja assassin is one half of the two most memorable characters in the games, and he probably had the most complicated legacy to grapple with. In both movie and game, Bi-Han (Sub-Zero’s given name) is grandmaster of the Lin Kuei clan of assassins. The movie mostly glazes over this point, and the audience is just made to assume that his clan and Scorpion’s have just been at each other’s throats for ages.
In this film, Sub-Zero lives up to his villainous origins and the film depicts him as a horror movie monster. He stalks American suburbia for Earth’s champions, mercilessly kills women and children and is responsible for the loss of Jax’s arms. For everyone saying they’d love a Sub-Zero movie where he stalks his victims Jason Voorhees-style, we support you.
It’s disappointing when Taslim’s expressive face disappears under the mask, just as Sub-Zero fades from the stage toward the middle of the film. His fights are the most interesting and the most creative, particularly when he freezes Scorpion’s blood into a knife. For many, the movie was already worth it after Sub Zero performed that one move.
Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada)
It’s too bad the movie couldn’t focus on the eternal blood feud between the two ninjas, because Sanada was the only other performer besides Taslim who elevated the proceedings to higher drama.
Sanada has even less screen and face time than Taslim’s Bi-Han (the first Sub-Zero and older brother of the one that exists in the games today), but he makes the best use of it. His boiling anger made Scorpion believable as vengeful spirit, so angry even hell couldn’t contain him.
Jax (Mehcad Brooks)
Brooks and McNamee could’ve gotten away with being this film’s main characters and audience surrogates. They’re both likable enough.
The film only alludes to Jax and Sonya’s past partnership in the military, similar to how it glosses over many other relationships. But the way McNamee comforts Brooks in the movie made me think this story could’ve used more of them. At least Jax is properly stoked once he realizes how useful his new arms can be. He gets paired with a disappointing fighter (it’s not Goro and it should’ve been), but the movie has a lot of fun with how he swings his steel guns.
Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and Shang Tsung (Chin Han)
I lump these two together because they both had barely anything to do in the film. Screenwriter Greg Russo said he wrote both characters in as more like chess masters, moving pieces on a board. While they certainly look and act the part, fans of both characters will walk away a bit disappointed.
Liu Kang (Ludi Lin)
This extremely muscular man gave Liu Kang a wingspan I didn’t expect. As I mentioned earlier, the original protagonist of the Mortal Kombat franchise gets drawn as a slightly naive warrior, clearly experienced but still new to the brutality of “Mortal Kombat.”
It’s a let down to see Liu just along for the ride, rather than being the central focus. Spoiler ahead for “Mortal Kombat 11,” but in the current video game universe, Liu Kang is basically god of all existence and is tasked with creating the universe as he sees fit. Liu was another prime candidate for this film’s protagonist, but alas.
Kung Lao (Max Huang)
More brash than expected, the descendant of the Earth’s former tournament champion makes one of the more exciting debuts in the film. He magically warps in to rescue the heroes, and makes a strong first impression as no trifling martial artist.
It was interesting to watch him suddenly assume the role of a mentor to many of the other fighters, particularly Kano, which reflects Kung Lao’s own chaotic energy. Unfortunately, he’s another cast member with little to do, but at least he owns the film’s most gruesome fatality.
Mileena (Sisi Stringer)
She has one line as Shang Tsung’s bodyguard, but her costuming and makeup were excellent.
Kabal (stuntman Daniel Nelson and voice actor Damon Herriman)
His heavy New York accent was cheesy and hilarious, and he was a delightful foil to Kano’s ego. Sadly, he’s another Mileena — a bad guy bodyguard — and yet another victim of a very-crowded film.
The franchise and this film aren’t worried about subtlety, so it’s mind boggling that they didn’t think to pair up Jax and his new metal arms with the four-armed Goro. Goro ends up tearing up American suburbia like some late-80s action movie monster, and it’s pretty hilarious. That said, it was pretty disappointing to see the first game’s most fearsome enemy made into a footnote.