Mortal Kombat (2021) Review

Video game movies are almost always awful. Super Mario Bros. set the bar pretty low in the early 90’s and Hollywood’s been limboing under it ever since. Add in preachy social commentary and meta-dialogue and the 21st century hasn’t done anything to improve matters. So along came the new Mortal Kombat and I found myself rolling my eyes and wondering what sort of “woke” drivel was about to be sprayed all over a gruesome classic. The great news about the new Mortal Kombat is that there was no agenda being pushed during the almost two hour run time. The bad news is that they sacrificed storytelling and some substantially cool fight scenes so they could shoehorn in as many characters as possible from the 28-year-old franchise. On top of that, rather than craft the story around any of those dozens of pre-existing characters the studio instead created a flat, dimensionless lead and dropped him into the middle of a formulaic hero’s journey scenario framed at all sides by much more interesting tales.

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Be warned, I don’t like writing mystery pieces. There are spoilers ahead.

The film begins with Sub-Zero and Scorpion battling one another in feudal Japan in the 1600s offering a decent –though predictable– cinematic origin story for the man who would become Scorpion. Springing into the 21st century, we’re introduced to a brand new character, Cole, a past his prime MMA fighter who has some kind of loose affiliation with Jax and is a direct descendant of Scorpion, making him and his entire family a target of Sub-Zero and the armies of outworld. We’re quickly given our first modern-day fight scene that made everything up to this point feel like a terrible cut scene we had to sit through without skipping. From there audiences are introduced to Sonya Blade, Kano, Reptile, Shang Tsung, Kung Lao, Liu Kang… you get the picture. It was a lot like watching a movie in the DCEU where they try to shove as many characters and cameos as possible into a two-hour flick just to set up a sequel. On the plus side, Raiden was played by someone other than Christopher Lambert.

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The fight scenes in Mortal Kombat almost make up for the terrible and, at times painfully slow storytelling. Unfortunately, the CGI used in place of practical effects feels hastily crafted and unfinished. The best example of this comes from the scenes depicting the winged Nitara. The character design is unremarkable and she has absolutely no dialogue, but the scenes in which she flies are awful. The movements are stiff and the character stands out against the background like Scooby Doo walking down a hallway. Even her death, which was spectacularly gruesome, felt unpolished and lacking. The completely CGI Goro was possibly the biggest disappointment of all and his brief and otherwise meaningless presence in the movie other than as a device for Cole to climax as a character felt like a total waste. Now, if I had been able to watch this in theaters instead of on my TV, the look and feel of this movie might have flowed better even if the pacing was still shit.

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Mortal Kombat is exactly what you’d expect from a video game adaptation film with an R rating. There’s lots of violence, gore, and adult humor even if it’s light on the actual story and character development. Surprisingly, one of the best things about this new cinematic MK is one of the franchise’s oldest villains: Kano. Kano is the most realistic, well-crafted, and outright funny character in the entire film. No one was expecting a cinematic masterpiece from Mortal Kombat. Could they have done a better job developing the story and characters? Absolutely. And were the effects lackluster? No doubt. But at the end of it all we still got a good, bloody, violent fighter movie that was entertaining and, for the most part, true to form. If you’re a fan of the games I feel confident you’ll enjoy this.

 

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Dan Lee

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