By Daniel Mendes, The Cinebuff.com
Who would’ve thought the best video game adaptation would be an animated feature? Director Ethan Spaulding’s Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, the sequel to Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge has the heroes of Earthrealm once again fighting against the forces of evil. The evil Shao Khan (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) invades Earthrealm and declares another Mortal Kombat tournament. While our heroes deal with Shao Khan, Scorpion (Patrick Seitzis) is once again resurrected by the Elder God Shinnok (Robin Atkin Downes) as a means of helping Shinnok resurrect the One Being.
The live action Mortal Kombat films have always felt limited with the amount of violence they could show on screen. With these two recent animated films however, there’s an inventive playfulness in how the action is executed. Every death blow is visualized with some really innovative “X-Ray” shots that hammer home how messy the kills are. Bones break, heads explode, and blood splatters everywhere. The animators and director go out of their way to create some inventive kills which will either repulse or delight you depending on your threshold for violence.
The surface-level thrills of the action do just enough to cover up some of the half-baked characterization and scripting. The original batch of characters are all back, and it’s an absolute blast to watch them interact with each other again, but the way the film jumps back and forth between the Mortal Kombat tournament with Scorpion’s subplot results in neither story getting their proper time to develop. The film’s opening sets up Liu Kang (Jordan Rodriguez) as the primary protagonist, but the film never provides enough of a reason to care about him. Battle of the Realms is already crammed with characters, and adding an extra plot that could have been its own film detracts from our investment with Liu Kang and his friends.
While most of the newer characters aren’t as interesting as the main leads, Shao Khan is the one new character who leaves an impression. His thirst for war and blood are what make him a formidable foe. There’s no complexity to the character, but what Khan lacks in nuance, he makes up for with sheer brute force. Almost everyone who fights him meets an unsavory end, and by the final match, you’ll find yourself leaning ever closer to the screen in anticipation as to what he might do.
Of course, every good villain needs a good hero and Battle of the Realms brings back the main characters from the first film. Liu Kang works just fine as the lead protagonist, but being the straight man unfortunately makes him pale in comparison to the other characters. Fan favorite Johnny Cage (Joel McCale) is the only character who can match the film’s goofy and irreverent tone and provides the most charm and charisma. Sonya Blade (Jennifer Carpenter) is tough. Her no-nonsense persona plays well off Cage, and it’s pleasant watching their relationship develop further in the sequel. Rounding out the cast of heroes is Lord Raiden (Dave B. Mitchell) who voluntarily de-powers himself to participate in the tournament.
Battle of the Realms has no pretense of being anything more than a hyper-violent action film, and it accomplishes what it set out to achieve. It’s a bit unfocused, but for anyone looking for an honest adaptation of the Mortal Kombat IP, this film does right by them. Steering this franchise into the animated direction allows the filmmakers to stretch beyond the boundaries of live action, and Battle of the Realms throws every punch it can. There is so much going on for a film that runs for less than 90 minutes, but with its delightfully gruesome action sequences and badass characters, Battle of the Realms will satisfy even the most casual Mortal Kombat fan.