Fresh off their massive success with Godzilla vs. Kong, Warner Bros is back in theaters and streaming on HBO Max with the release of Mortal Kombat on April 23. The film is, of course, an adaptation of the hugely profitable gaming franchise. It’s also a reboot of the film series that began in 1995 to potent box office returns and a 1997 sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) that couldn’t live up to the first. Therefore the series has been dormant nearly a quarter century.
Simon McQuoid makes his directorial debut (and James Wan as a coproducer) with a cast featuring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, and Hiroyuki Sanada. While it seems like every major motion picture has experienced major delays due to COVID-19, this one was only pushed three months from an original January release date.
As mentioned, its studio has found a formula that works in recent months with their simultaneous multiplex and HBO Max drop dates. Godzilla vs. Kong set the COVID times record with a much better than anticipated $32 million traditional opening weekend and nearly $50 million for its five-day Easter frame rollout.
Mortal Kombat may not have quite the appeal of those two monsters mashing, but it certainly has a built-in fanbase that will prefer to see it in the theaters. Its R rating (the first two flicks were PG-13) could be a minor hiccup, but I doubt that will have too much effect. It can’t hurt that there’s a new generation of video game players and their parents who are familiar with it.
I look for Kombat to punch in with a little more than half of what GvK accomplished and that means high teens is the range I’m forecasting.
Mortal Kombat opening weekend prediction: $17.5 million
There’s not a whole lot to add to the finned villain genre some 43 years after Jaws, but TheMeg tries to do so in the form of size. The title refers to a megalodon. That’s a creature long thought to be extinct. It’s so big that it can eat normal sharks as a light snack. Size matters in this movie. We actually have two gargantuan megs that a crew must contend with. The human group of potential chum is led by Jason Statham, his massive biceps, and that voice that sounds as if he gargles gravel.
Statham plays Jonas and he’s still reeling from an incident five years ago in which he lost a group of sailors on a submarine. Jonas is convinced that an unknown and large ocean dweller caused that tragedy. As a side note, it’s interesting that the screenplay portrays him as despondent over that loss. Other characters later on seem to develop a process of rapid grieving for people they actually know.
Yet we don’t watch these pictures for lessons on dealing with death. We watch to see inventive ways for it to happen. Jonas is lured back into the water when his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) and her mates are trapped deep underwater with that big fish lurking. She’s an employee of Mana One, a cool looking research facility looking for new species. The corporation is headed by an eccentric (is there any other kind?) billionaire played by Rainn Wilson. Li Bingbing is an oceanographer with a precocious young daughter who also serves as Jonas’s immediate love interest. Recognizable faces like Cliff Curtis and Ruby Rose are also along for the ride.
TheMeg never quite develops a satisfying identity. The PG-13 rating eliminates the opportunity for gory delights. There’s winking humor and even some of it lands. And there’s also dramatic moments that seem to want to be taken seriously. It spills its creative guts early on and essentially repeats itself. A third act that finally lets the monster expose himself to the beach going masses feels truncated.
Statham throws himself into the role and it’s admirable. We do see a couple of man vs. beast exchanges that I hadn’t seen before. However, this doesn’t rise to the level of genuine guilty pleasure or generate enough suspense, humor, or horror. They’re too infrequent to completely excuse the sizable gaps of mediocrity.
A glossy and often relevant retelling of one of the most famous matches ever, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is centered on both the tennis court and the court of public opinion. Both matters are firmly on the focused mind of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the famed pro who was demanding equal pay for women in 1973 when the picture is set.
King and her fellow female players aren’t getting near that, so they start a league of their own, under the sponsorship of Virginia Slim cigarettes (it was a different time). Another player sees an opportunity to cash in on the publicity and that’s Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former champion now in his mid 50s who spends most of his time as a compulsive gambler (though he doesn’t see it that way). His challenge to King to meet on the court generated a divide among the sexes and many eyeballs on the eventual event – apparently about 90 million.
The court of public opinion doesn’t extend to gender issues. King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell) who helps run her fledgling empire. Yet when she meets free spirit hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a romance quickly develops. King is smitten, but she knows it must stay in the closet to protect her career.
Battle of the Sexes tells this tale entertainingly and somewhat superficially. The themes of gender equality are ones that render four decades later. Stone has the most material to work with in her nuanced and strong portrayal of King. There’s not much nuance to Carell’s Riggs, though he’s certainly fun to watch.
The screenplay doesn’t delve too deep into his story, but Carell plays it well enough to avoid him becoming a total caricature. King seems to know Bobby isn’t quite the chauvinist louse he purports to be. The same cannot be said for Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a prominent former pro turned announcer who doesn’t understand anything about women’s liberation. The pic is peppered with familiar faces in smaller parts, including Elisabeth Shue as Bobby’s wealthy and frustrated wife and Alan Cumming as the team’s outfit designer who quickly figures out Billie’s affair.
King would eventually earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to her advocacy for gay rights and equal pay. Sexes sees her at the advent of that life’s work. We see her drive as she tirelessly practices to beat a man at his game when so few think it’s possible. In fact, hearing Howard Cosell’s actual play-by-play during the game is both a treat and a stark reminder that it was a different era. We know eventually that King’s relentless work ethic will be applied elsewhere and for an even greater cause. Battle doesn’t delve overly deep into how she got there, but it serves up its replay of history admirably enough.