‘Mortal Kombat’ Review — A ’90s B-Movie in 2021

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Mortal Kombat Review

I don’t think there’s any need to take a deep dive into the dubious history of the video game movie. Needless to say, it’s not a genre littered with success. There was a sense of renewed hope when the red band trailer for Mortal Kombat dropped earlier in the year. Finally, it would seem as if the ultra-violent revolutionary fighting game from the ‘90s would get its bloody big screen adaptation, erasing the underwhelming ‘90s movies. Sadly, Mortal Kombat just doesn’t live up to expectations. In a lot of ways it feels like a long lost ‘90s movie with its wobbly plotting, underwhelming effects, and comically bad acting. This Mortal Kombat is a modest improvement on its previous adaptations, but it just fails to live up to its potential.

Anyone who played the Mortal Kombat games knows that the premise is that of an interdimensional martial arts competition with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Of course, the concept is rather simple and straightforward for a video game – choose your fighter and then fight. But adapting this into a narrative isn’t quite as simple, and the screenplay credited to Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (from a story by Russo and Oren Uziel) mightily struggles to craft a scenario worth caring about. The film opens centuries ago as Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), a.k.a. Sub-Zero, kills the mighty warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family. The death of Hanzo means that the Earthrealm has lost its mightiest warrior and at the next Mortal Kombat will be the tenth consecutive victory for Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his denizens of Outworld, meaning the end of the world as we know it.

In present day, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a struggling MMA fighter, taking beatings for chump change. Little does he know that he is a descendant of Hanzo and a prophecy foretells that Hanzo’s descendants will defeat Shang Tsung. Aware of the prophecy, Shang Tsung dispatches Sub-Zero to kill Cole. The young fighter is saved by the military fighter Jax (Mehcad Brooks), who tells Cole to seek out his colleague Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Along with the brutal mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole and Sonya travel to the mystical home of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) where they will train alongside Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) to prepare for Mortal Kombat with Shang Tsung and his forces of darkness.

To be clear, I didn’t start watching Mortal Kombat with the expectation that the film would feature a profound storyline, nuanced and deep characters, and Oscar-worthy acting. Just give me some well-choregraphed fights with ample graphic violence and I’d be happy. Unfortunately, that where first time director Simon McQuoid really drops the ball. The action of Mortal Kombat is just not dynamic. This is especially apparent in any fight scene featuring Joe Taslim, who is an incredible action performer as proven in The Raid and The Night Comes for Us. Choppy editing results in clunky fight scenes that deprives the film’s most physically formidable performers of their greatest talents. The simple fact is if Mortal Kombat had delivered a couple killer action sequences its more glaring flaws could be brushed aside.

In the grand tradition of its video game origins, Mortal Kombat has ample amounts of blood and guts. But that gore is mostly CGI and that leaves so much of the film’s violence with a cartoon-like quality, but not in a cool homage to 16-bit blood kind of way. Overall, the effects of Mortal Kombat feel rather chintzy for a major production and combined with a weak script that spends a lot of time on its uninteresting characters training, it leaves Mortal Kombat feeling like a recently unearthed video game adaptation that had been languishing in a vault since 1998.

It’s all but impossible to care about the characters in Mortal Kombat. Lewis Tan’s Cole Young is a new character not previously in the video games, but the character as written is practically a void. Oddly, that’s true of most of the characters who have been transposed from the video game. There’s an array of characters but little time to actually give them any sense of depth or even a little personality. These characters are weighed down by their video game mythology that is, well, nonsense. All these character issues negatively effect every performance in Mortal Kombat. None of the cast comes across well, be they fresh faces or screen veterans, though I’d argue that the fact this problem afflicts the entire cast is more a directorial issue than on the individual actors.

I was really hoping that Mortal Kombat could provide the basest thrills of big, bloody fights, but it instead gets bogged down by the problems that have plagued video game adaptations since they started making them. It’s safe to say that nobody plays Mortal Kombat for its plot, and by leaning too heavily on the game’s mythology the movie become too invested in its plot instead of its action. Mortal Kombat may be a misfire, but its odd misfire in that its like a nostalgic throwback misfire. It’s the kind of mindless B-movie that never really entertains, but isn’t bad or meanspirited enough to be entirely off-putting or bizarrely entertaining.

  • Mortal Kombat
2.5

Overall Score

An underwhelming video game adaptation that feels like a ’90s throwback, Mortal Kombat has a shaky plot, paper-thin characters, and action marred by cartoonish CGI gore.

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