Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge is a hard-R-rated animated film that seeks to humanize one of the most iconic and cunning characters in gaming history. Throughout its nearly three-decade history, the Mortal Kombat video game series has balanced cheesy melodrama from B-level martial arts films with the hyper-violence of a schlock thriller to varying degrees of success. The franchise's first animated film continues that tradition and is a fun ride, yet it often struggles to maintain its focus once the fighting begins.
Scorpion's Revenge is essentially the origin story of the titular ninja clad in black and yellow, infamous for hurling a rope-dart and shouting "GET OVER HERE!" In the beginning, he's Hanzo Hasashi (Patrick Seitz), a master assassin of the Shirai Ryu clan. But after he and his entire village are killed in a brutal attack from the rival Lin Kuei clan, he's eventually resurrected as an undead revenant by the sorcerer Quan Chi to exact revenge against Sub-Zero, who led the attack. This series of events leads him to the immortal Shang Tsung's island, where he'll compete in the Mortal Kombat tournament, which will decide the fate of Earthrealm against invaders from the alternate dimension known as Outworld.
While Scorpion's journey is the backbone of the plot, the majority of the film is a retelling of the original Mortal Kombat game, putting significant focus on other returning favorites like Liu-Kang (Jordan Rodrigues), Sub-Zero (Steve Blum), Johnny Cage (Joel McHale), Sonya Blade (Jennifer Carpenter), and Raiden (Dave B. Mitchell). Despite the carnage and bloodshed, there's a lot of emphasis on humor and drama with the main cast, which gives the film something of a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. It features many callbacks and Easter eggs related to the fighting game series, which not only sets the stage for a sequel but also makes it tailor-made for die hard fans to enjoy.
Scorpion's Revenge is at its most interesting when it focuses on the lead character and his harrowing rebirth and eventual redemption. While it's fun to see other MK heroes get their time in the spotlight, especially with the charismatic yet aloof Johnny Cage chewing the scenery, it often takes away from the film's supposed lead, Scorpion. So many characters joining the tournament with their own motivations makes for an overstuffed plot that shows off a lot of scenarios that fans have seen several times before in the games. As a result, once things kick into high gear, some impactful moments and plot threads fall flat.
Just like the video game series, the animated film puts its all into the elaborate and hyper-violent fights. The action scenes in Scorpion's Revenge are a real highlight that show off impressive animation and some slick choreography. The combat sequences are brutal and grotesque, which is in keeping with the source material. Many of the film's more intense fights are punctuated with X-Ray intercuts to show the true extent of the carnage, which is a direct nod to the recent MK games. The level of violence in the film easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the brutality shown off in the video games; this the most violent MK adaptation to date.
In some cases, however, the violence and the film's fun vibe can clash. Scorpion's Revenge tries to prop up the violence with humor and drama, yet together, these disparate modes feel tonally out of step. The changes in tone are most evident during the story's middle and final acts, when the film is at its most gruesome. The level of violence toes the fine line between stupidly over-the-top and just plain gross, which is a reminder that this movie isn't for the squeamish or young.
Despite these misgivings, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge is a fun ride that is faithful to the series. The film is most engrossing when it focuses on territory unseen in the series before, referencing even some of the more obscure aspects of MK lore. Yet, to its detriment, it often sticks to beats that have already been established in the games, or even in the original 1995 live-action film, both of which also relied heavily on cliches and tongue-in-cheek B-movie references. Still, when things kick off, it's fun to see the main leads throw down, and it was satisfying seeing many of the series' familiar big bads and MacGuffins make their appearances.
The Mortal Kombat series built a reputation for offering cheap, grotesque thrills at the arcades in the '90s, but those who've enjoyed the games view it as more than just a guilty pleasure. This film veers a bit closer to guilty pleasure than refined delight, but I still had fun revisiting the origins of the series.