MORTAL KOOOOMBAAAAAT! FINISH HIM! Flawless Victory… If you grew up in the 90’s chances are really good that you’ve heard these lines thrown out into the ether accompanied by cheering or groaning depending on which end the player found themselves on. Even if you somehow avoided encountering these sounds, although when the Amish get the reference and you don’t, I wonder about the size of the rock you hid under, you probably heard your friends quoting these lines in school. Just the sound of it brings back memories of the arcade, bowling alley, or even a random grocery store. For most of us this stroll down memory lane is pleasant and welcomed but some of us remember the god-awful decision to adapt this beloved franchise into a film. It was so reprehensible that it’s fandom only exists in a cult reality. So when I heard that someone in Hollywood, yet again, determined to mine existing ideas from the past and settled on a remake of one of the worst video game film adaptations to ever exist, I was naturally skeptical.
*minor spoilers follow*
When the opening scene unfolded I was pleased to discover that the focus was on the rivalry surrounding two of the more beloved characters from the MK franchise in Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). The film sets about establishing its own lore in this scene while still maintaining a reasonable narrative of character backstory. The scene plays out fairly well, the CGI wasn’t too intrusive on the martial arts sequences but as would be a theme throughout the film, quick cuts would sometimes abruptly cause a fight to feel inorganic or staged. It wasn’t the worst usage of the technique but it was enough to interrupt decent choreography and chemistry. The story was initially set in these sequences and it remained a central focus, with many references, just in case we forgot.
As the events of this new Mortal Kombat begin to unfold, we slowly get introduced to familiar characters and this film even throws in a new character with ties to an original. Cole Young (Lewis Tan) enters the fabled MK universe alongside old standouts Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), and Kano. (Josh Lawson) Portrayed as a down-on-his-luck family man taking small fights for minimal money, Young finds himself one of the targets of Shang Tsung’s (Mg Chin Han) devious plots. As the story progresses, Young finds himself more and more involved in the Mortal Kombat tournament and the apparent politics surrounding the event. The story here is centered primarily on family but enough sub plot is mixed in to keep it entertaining, and let’s all be honest here, most of us didn’t come to view this film for its compelling and gripping narrative, we came here for over the top martial arts sequences and Tarantino levels of gore.
This is where Mortal Kombat (2021) shines brightest in my opinion. While an expectation of gore is a given, the film delivers it in a situationally correct manner that feels more an extension of the fight itself rather than a forced additive for the sake of fan service. Amputation, decapitation and even a sweet nod to old school magic tricks by sawing someone in half. There is plenty to look forward to as a fan in this film, with plenty of nostalgic nods to the series’ past with quips and quotes aplenty. Kano provides an appropriate amount of obnoxious and disgusting humor while demonstrating how a villain can be appropriately utilized without being likable. The story even manages to terribly but somewhat believably explain why our heroes can execute superhuman powers thanks to Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) because we definitely need to understand why someone can punch the heart out of someone else’s chest. Kano wins I guess.
This is where I heavily criticize the film. The story seemed somewhat reliant on a suspension of disbelief in the meta. I’ll give a brief example to explain a somewhat baffling progression of events. A tournament is approaching that will decide the fate of the Earthrealm and I’m led to believe that two dedicated Special Forces operatives uncovered the truth of Mortal Kombat. (Tan gets to make the misspelling joke here and I am all here for that) At the same time, Raiden is perfectly aware of Shang Tsung’s plot and instead of rescuing his champions, he expects them to discover where to find him and proceeds to be critical of their lack of preparation once they do. The entire sequence of finding Raiden and then the expectation of becoming the best fighters ever in less than a month was silly to me, but in the writing team’s defense, they did do a great job bringing everyone together and introducing the cast. While it doesn’t balance out in my opinion, I want to make sure I give credit where it is due. The ending provided sufficient satisfaction without being hamstrung into finality, even managing to set up a sequel if this film is received well enough. I enjoyed the film, I even had to pause it at one point when Kano was being trained by Kung Lao because I was laughing so hard I almost cried, but it has its share of flaws for sure.
If you walk in expecting a perfect adaptation of the expansive and sometimes outright ridiculous MK lore you’re going to be disappointed. This is not that. It does in movie format what you expect from a Mortal Kombat title. Minimalist story, over the top action sequences, choppy but smile inducing dialogue, and enough gore to satisfy dedicated fans. (Thanks Kitana) Some things refuse to stay dead, and I’m glad this franchise found at least a modicum of redemption in it’s resurrection. It does what previous versions of this film could not do. It manages to not suck while still being a video game movie.
6.5 out of 10