Mortal Kombat (2021)
Written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham
Directed by Simon McQuoid
I was never a Mortal Kombat fan. In our house, we had an NES for the longest time and only upgraded in the late 1990s to a Playstation. I haven’t really enjoyed the fighting games I have played. It’s a genre that doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities. I get bored with those kinds of games a few minutes in but can click away for hours at Civilization or some tycoon management sim. However, because I was the right age for it, I know a decent amount about Mortal Kombat just through culture osmosis. I can’t say I had any expectations for this adaptation, and it definitely met the bar I set for it.
In 17th century Japan, Bi-Han leads a group of assassins in an attack on the home of Hanzo Hasashi, killing the man’s wife and son. Hasashi fights ferociously but is killed, leaving Bi-Han believing he has wiped out the family line. An infant son was hidden by Hasashi’s wife before Bi-Han could take her life, and centuries later, we catch up with Cole Young, the descendant who bears the same dragon birthmark Hasashi once did. This signifies that Young is part of the Mortal Kombat, a battle between Earthrealm and Outworld to determine control of the universe. Each side has fighters gifted with superhuman powers, and they compete continuously to upset the balance. Cole meets Sonya Blade and Jax, who lead him to the temple of Raiden, where the fighters train and discover their powers. Meanwhile, Shang Tsung, a sorcerer in Outworld, plots to send his fighters against Earth and destroy all of them.
One of the complaints about the earlier film attempts of Mortal Kombat is that the high amount of gore the game series was famous for was muted for a PG-13 rating. This picture certainly has moments that take advantage of its R-rating, but I would say it still does not live up to the insane amount of blood & guts the game displays. The most Mortal Kombat moment in the film, in my opinion, is when Kung Lao uses his hat like a saw blade to slice a character in two, revealing the innards and bone. Other than that, the film is still pretty much in PG-13 territory with violence.
If you are a fan of Mortal Kombat and seeing characters portrayed in live-action, you get a nice assortment here. Kano, Goro, Mileena, and more are all here. I am not well-versed on characters beyond the first Mortal Kombat game, so most of these names went over my head. The film kicks things off on a hopeful note with some solid fight choreography, but I don’t think it necessarily keeps that quality going for the rest of the picture. Once more special effects become involved, the fighting starts to look much less impressive.
What remains true throughout the picture is that the best fights are between Scorpion and Sub-Zero. They are the opening battle of the picture and serve as the final showdown. Both times the fights are complex and exciting to watch. Even with their powers in the finale, it’s still inventive. Sub-Zero forms a weapon out of Scorpion’s own blood in a clever bit. My biggest takeaway was how this movie would lead someone who hadn’t seen more recent games to think Mortal Kombat was a boring game.
I haven’t played it, but I have watched footage from Mortal Kombat 11, and it is a visually stunning game. I just don’t understand why you would make a Mortal Kombat movie that was paled compared to the inventive violence of the games. You have hours of fatalities and moves to cull from, and then you just deliver a movie that is yawn-inducing for most of its runtime. I don’t think anyone comes to a Mortal Kombat film looking for a complex narrative, but they at least want to see cool fights. This movie simply doesn’t provide enough of them.