April 23, 2021 Mortal Kombat (Movie Review)
As far as fighting game franchises go, Mortal Kombat is the top dog when it comes to branching out into other media. The series has had a Saturday morning cartoon show, 1996’s Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, a live-action TV series, 1998’s Mortal Kombat: Conquest, multiple animated films, a live-action web series, and two feature-length films. As far as the feature films, 1995’s Mortal Kombat lacked blood, but became a cult favorite. This is while 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was a bomb that blew up any chance of the franchise returning to the big screen. Well, not for another 24 years… that was until the new feature Mortal Kombat was announced.
Simply entitled Mortal Kombat, the new New Line Cinema/ Warner Bros. Pictures film swooped into cinemas as well as became available for streaming on HBO Max on Friday, April 23, 2021. It features Simon McQuoid (The Night-Time Economy 2014) in the director’s chair, and Greg Russo and Dave Callahan (Wonder Woman 1984 2021, Shang Chi 2021) behind the screenplay, which is based from a story by Russo and Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street 2014, The Cloverfield Paradox 2018).
The film follows a former MMA champ called Cole Young (Lewis Tan: Deadpool 2 2018, Wu Assassins 2019) plagued by mounting losses and hellish visions. He finds himself pulled into a battle between realms when warriors from Outworld threaten to take over the Earth. Only those with a special Arcana mark have the power to band together and push them back, including Young. Under the guidance of Raiden (Tadanobu Asano: Thor 2011, Thor: Ragnarok 2017), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin: Power Rangers 2017, Aquaman 2018) and Kung Lao (Max Huang: Dragon Blade 2015, Time Raiders 2016), Young must tap into his mark’s power, and learn the secret behind his visions to protect the world and his family.
Overall, the new film seems more serious than its ’90s counterpart, yet there is still a good amount of cheese in the dialogue and story. It is a mild Wensleydale compared to the mature Stilton Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa and Christopher Lambert were bringing in the 1995 film. Still, the actors know they are making a bonkers Action flick than something for the Academy, and it shows in their performances. Most notably in Kano, played by Josh Lawson (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues 2013, The Little Death 2014). He mixes funny quips and the odd prat fall with an entertainingly slimy attitude, which the other actors bounce off of well. Particularly Jessica McNamee (Battle of the Sexes 2017, The Meg 2018) as Sonya Blade.
Then there are the ninjas Sub-Zero and Scorpion- perhaps the series’ most iconic characters. The former, played by Joe Taslim (The Raid: Redemption 2011, Star Trek Beyond 2016) is treated as the biggest threat to the heroes. Taslim gives the character a sense of menace through his line delivery and physical acting that really comes off well on-screen. His scenes, from the opening to the end, tend to be the best ones both dramatically and in terms of action.
Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada: Ringu 1998, The Twilight Samurai 2002) is a different deal, as his appearances are more sparse. He has his opening scene against Sub-Zero, then essentially makes cameos afterwards. These appearances do ultimately pay off with some strong fight scenes, and Sanada plays him well. Though anyone looking for wall-to-wall spear-flinging action will have to wait a while to get it.
Tan also does well as Young, being a sympathetic-enough lead for the audience to get behind. Still, his character is a little on the bland side compared to the ice ninja, Aussie merc, and a guy who fights with a hat. That said, he is still playing a character. Most of the villains, outside of Sub-Zero and Shang Tsung (Chin Han: The Dark Knight 2008, Contagion 2011) are just living obstacles for the heroes. Some may get a few lines, even hints at a back story here and there, but little else.
Still, people looking for something meaty will find it in the fight scenes. Literally. The film is a much bloodier affair than its predecessors, with a few classic fatalities cropping up here and there (“…flawless victory!”). It does not get as nasty as the recent video games, though it does get close in a few instances. The camerawork could have been tighter as some sequences can be hard to follow, or even crop off most of the odd stunt in some cases. Nevertheless, the fight scenes remain a fun watch, which is what most of the audience will be looking forward to the most anyway.
That said, the worst thing about the film would be at the very end. It ties up most of its plot threads, then leaves others open to tease a sequel. It leaves it feeling incomplete, like a 2-hour prologue to a larger story. A Fellowship of the (Wrestling) Ring, so to speak. Except people knew The Two Towers and Return of the King were coming. As popular as Mortal Kombat is, there is still a chance the film could be an hors d’oeuvres to a meal that does not arrive.
Overall, this new Mortal Kombat movie provides some solid drama here and there, usually with Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Young. Not to mention the odd funny moment, and meta references for the big fans. Still, it is all secondary to the action, which despite the odd slip-up, comes off rather well. It is a solid adaptation of the game that might even stand above its cornier predecessors. That in mind, the third act does rush to its ending, which leaves on an open note. Here is hoping there is a follow-up to complete the package; this film needs it. As it is, Cryptic Rock gives the new Mortal Kombat movie 3 out of 5 stars.