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Mortal Kombat coming to HBO Max and theaters on April 23: How to watch, what to know

What other movie features a fighter stabbing his enemy with an icicle made from the enemy's own blood? Not Citizen Kane, that's for sure.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
4 min read

Get ready for the new Mortal Kombat movie.

Warner Bros

Are you ready to see Sub-Zero and Liu Kang fire up their finishing moves on your TV screen? That's right, the latest Hollywood take on Mortal Kombat is almost here. The all-new movie hits HBO Max (and movie theaters) on Friday, April 23. This is Hollywood's third take on the eponymous game series, after 1995's Mortal Kombat and its 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. And yes, while video game movies can be notoriously bad -- I'm looking at you, Super Mario Bros. -- the original has enough of a cult following (dubbed by CNET "the best of the worst") that plenty of folks are getting the popcorn and shurikens ready for a watch party. 

When and how to watch

This version of Mortal Kombat has been a long time coming -- after the first two films came out in the 1990s and the second one was such a bomb, the third film went into limbo. This reboot comes nearly a quarter of a century after that disaster.

Theatrical releases are still iffy in early 2021 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but Warner Bros. is still hoping some moviegoers will be able to watch all the action on the big screen. Mortal Kombat is scheduled for release in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on April 23 after getting pushed back a week from April 16. 

Everything on Warner Bros.' 2021 slate of new movies, in fact, will be available on HBO Max at no added cost to subscribers -- in other words, "feels like" free. But HBO Max doesn't have a free trial, so you'll either need to sign up with a paying membership (currently $15 a month) or upgrade an existing HBO subscription to include Max. 

In fact, you might already have access to HBO Max and not even know it. If you currently subscribe to HBO via your cable or satellite provider, you can probably get HBO Max without paying anything extra. We explain it in detail here, but essentially, you'll need to watch on a smart TV or streaming device -- or a Comcast Xfinity box -- using the HBO Max app and your home internet connection. 

Also, after months of delay, Roku is finally giving its streaming devices and TVs access to HBO Max. Roku users who already use the HBO app will automatically update to HBO Max. You can find more information here.

What do we know about Mortal Kombat?

The film's first trailer came out in February, and it's jam-packed with the over-the-top gory deaths the Mortal Kombat game was famous for. It's hard to imagine another film where a character (Sub-Zero, played by Joe Taslim) freezes the blood spurting from an injured opponent, grabs that blood spray like a bloody icicle and stabs the enemy with it.

How do you turn a video game into a movie plot? Warner Bros. describes it as a bit of an underdog tale. Here's the official description, but warning: If you're not a gamer, you might get lost in the name list.

MMA fighter Cole Young, accustomed to taking a beating for money, is unaware of his heritage -- or why Outworld's Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family's safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth's greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. But will Cole be pushed hard enough to unlock his arcana -- the immense power from within his soul -- in time to save not only his family, but to stop Outworld once and for all?

Director Simon McQuoid promised Collider that the fight scenes will live up to the game's reputation.

"The first thing I said to Kyle (Gardiner), who is the stunt coordinator, he runs the whole thing, I said to him, 'OK, Kyle, we have to make the best fights that have ever been on film. So, no pressure,'" McQuoid told the site. Yet the director says the fights will have context and depth.

"But it was really about building character and story within the fight itself so it didn't just feel like a plug-in," he said. "It actually felt like part of the scene and part of the act."

Cast and crew info

The cast may not be familiar to those who mostly see mainstream American movies, but a number of veteran Asian actors are in the film, and both Lewis Tan and Joe Taslim are also martial artists, which would seem like valuable experience for this movie.

Joe Taslim plays Bi-Han /Sub-Zero
Lewis Tan plays Cole Young
Jessica McNamee plays Sonya Blade
Josh Lawson plays Kano
Tadanobu Asano plays Raiden
Mehcad Brooks plays Jax
Ludi Lin plays Liu Kang
Chin Han plays Shang Tsung
Hiroyuki Sanada plays Hanzo Hasashi /Scorpion
Simon McQuoid is directing the film, his first.
James Wan of the Saw and Insidious franchises, and Todd Garner of the Paul Blart: Mall Cop movies, are two of the producers.

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Mortal Kombat game news

If you want to play the latest game from the Mortal Kombat universe while waiting for the film, you're in luck. A new downloadable Kombat Pack for Mortal Kombat 11 came out in November, and Sylvester Stallone is voicing his iconic John Rambo character.

Mortal Kombat 11 came out in 2019, but has added numerous fighters, growing from an original list of 24 to the current 37.

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