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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Yes, Mortal Kombat is better than the atrocities of the 90s live-action films, but it’s still not very good. I will admit, I am not 100% familiar with all the nooks and crannies found within the surprisingly vast range of characters and backstories of the series, but as a potentially resurrected film franchise, the filmmakers have got to make some sort of extended effort in ushering in the noobs to the game’s potentially rich world of stories and characters. I am familiar with the odd backstory and some of the characters, but other than that, I would casually play the games with mates over the years, having fun with the gory and entertaining as hell silliness of it all. There is a surprising amount of promise early on, giving us a taste of the long-running rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. To an extent, it delivers on intrigue and continues to build on the hype of the inevitable badass battle(s) between them. It’s a decent taster in introducing us to the world of Mortal Kombat, as well as introducing us to three iconic and compelling characters in the game series. At this point, it feels like a cool little fan-made short film, but as the film progresses, it really begins to feel like a fan-made film for all the wrong reasons with clear limitations in terms of storytelling and acting abilities.

So, we are introduced to an amateur MMA fighter Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan, and a new character made just for the film) who sports a birthmark shaped like the iconic Mortal Kombat logo. After being hunted down by Sub-Zero, he soon finds out he is actually a chosen champion, eventually meeting others like him sporting the same mark who will need to train in order to defend Earth from the baddies of Outworld in an impending death match tournament. Cole Young is a protagonist who is mostly a plot device in propelling the film towards its promise of delivering a showdown between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Because of this, he is a protagonist of very little depth and intelligence. He comes across as a default character model you'd find in a game: dull and colourless. Why play with Cole Young when we can pick from the cooler, more colourful characters at our disposal? It's not just him who lacks common sense though, every character is pretty dumb in this for the sole purpose of getting things moving; each one making irrational and illogical choices that serve the purpose of just getting us to the next fight scene, further widening glaring plot holes.

Video game adaptations have unfortunately never really been good. No one has been able to crack the code in terms of being able to take the innovative and unique immersive experience of a videogame and actually make it as interesting and compelling on screen. After all, why watch what is essentially cut scenes for two hours when I can actually play the game and dictate the outcome of my experience and the characters I am playing with? So there’s just one of the challenges for game adaptations: to justify tying down your audience with adequate performances and gripping story beats before satisfying their lust for spilled guts and rolling heads. Unfortunately-*yaaaaawwwwwn*- the film is mostly filled with exceptionally boring and unfruitful attempts at getting us to care for the plot and the characters, relying on fan service moments to justify taking us away from the action. It also doesn’t help when the actors portraying these characters are completely lifeless in their cringey deliveries and interactions with each other.

Everyone is as wooden as it gets in terms of performance and delivery. It could’ve been better in the hands of more capable actors, but when you have a cast with the combined acting ability of a Christmas ham and a script that was clearly written by an 11-year-old boy and his rub-on tattoo, then it’s hard to imagine this being The Social Network in terms of delivery and execution. Kano (Josh Lawson) is easily the most lively of the cast, but even then, the over-use of F-bombs feel like the aforementioned 11-year-old is relishing the chance of being able to swear with impunity in his 16-year-old brother’s homemade action movie. His character also has the annoying job of being the joker of the pack, with literally every line he utters being some sort of punchline that got tiresome really fast, barely managing to squeeze any laughs from the audience.

Mortal Kombat is not only bland in terms of storytelling and performances, but it is also largely flavourless in its action, with very little of the promises made by the filmmakers coming to fruition. The fights are fine, adequate and just…ok, really. Nothing special by any means and actually quite boring the more I think about it. It’s especially disheartening when the entire popularity of the Mortal Kombat series is driven by the ingenuity and fun of the combat as well as the extreme gore and increasing creativity of each fatality. Director Simon McQuid made some bold claims about these fights being some of the best ever caught on film, connecting the impressive level of technical prowess shown by each fighter to the emotional impact each one of their punches, kicks and slashes has in telling their own stories. I commend him for wanting to achieve that, raising the stakes even higher for each character’s inner journey as well as being innovative in how he wants to portray martial arts in a film as a weapon in storytelling, instead of just being there as a form of physical conflict between characters. I got none of the emotional oomf suggested by him, which is fine if you at least wow me in the choreography of each fight. Nah, sorry man, none of that either. There are some mildly cool moves replicated from the game from each actor/martial artist, but other than that, the over-editing of each fight scene takes me out of potentially impressive fights that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Ip Man, The Raid and Ong-Bak just to name a few. In saying that, the fights are a thousand times more impressive than the 90s monstrosities we had to endure, but they are still nowhere nearly as crazy as promised. They’re just fine. Nothing less, nothing more. Just meh. Bummer.

Admittedly, the cheesiness of characters uttering iconic lines during and after each fight from the game can be satisfying, especially the silliness of a character’s “flawless victory” or “get over here!” delivered with a playful tongue-in-cheek attitude. They’re fun little moments that almost every GenX-er, Millienial and hopefully GenZ-er will get based on how much Mortal Kombat has embedded itself in our zeitgeist. But apart from that, the film misses chances at truly letting us engage and have fun with these characters, with each weak actor dragging their carcasses through boring downtime scenes to the next fight.

Ok ok, so the fights aren’t amazing but at least the fights and fatalities are blood baths, right? Nah. Try again. Although the film embraces the violence of the games far more than what the previous live-action films did, it’s still surprisingly tame in the blood and guts factor. With exception to one particularly brutal fatality, the rest is seriously limp in comparison. Nothing comes close to replicating a sliver of the ultra-violence that the games are known for. Missed opportunities to see a vast range of brutal action and fatalities are lost in each fight’s conclusion, with the villains in particular never being given a chance to wreak the havoc we expect from them.

I know I am sounding like a rambling dickhead with unreasonable expectations as well as just being a, well, dickhead. But at the end of the day, I love a loud, fun and relatively mindless movie as much as the next guy. Mortal Kombat occasionally delivers on nice little fan service moments throughout, but other than that, I really don’t know if it is the movie fans have been clamoring for. Godzilla Vs. Kong is a fine example of a film that embraced the ridiculousness of its premise, and although it didn’t live up to its promised bout entirely, it stopped trying too hard in focusing on the human characters and just give us what we wanted: two giants of cinema beating the shit out of each other, destroying a city or two in the process. If Mortal Kombat is to return for a sequel, I hope the filmmakers prioritize the action and embrace what makes the games so fun a little more. After all, most of us play the game to partake in the bloody carnage it offers, not for its story. Even at a healthy run time of 110 minutes, it ends before it really gets going, pulling the rug out from potentially movie-saving set-ups and fights, petering out to disappointing conclusions. Just go play the games instead. They're more fun.

Where you can watch it: In theatres right now (SA), HBO Max and in theatres April 16th (USA), April 22nd (Australia), April 23rd (UK)

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