As a hardcore fan of the original Mortal Kombat movie and a casual to moderate fan of the video games to date, I had some high expectations for this movie reboot of the Mortal Kombat.
That is to say, I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare to come out from this 2021 adaptation, but what I was looking forward to were some great fight scenes, kick-ass one liners and maybe a fatality or two. Thankfully, this movie does not disappoint in the above criteria. Having said that, some people may be disappointed by the changes to the characters and general story of the mythos but for the casual movie-goer, it shouldn’t affect their enjoyment.
In this movie, the story follows Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan) a character that is completely new to the franchise but the movie early on links his story directly with Hanzo Hasashi or Scorpion, if you’re nasty. Although Lewis Tan does an admirable job of portraying the character, unfortunately its not enough to change anyone’s mind about this extraneous character showing up out of the blue. Like Liu Kang in the original movie, he’s merely a cipher for the uninformed audiences, a way to explain this extraordinary world but not have it feel too overwhelming.
Story-wise, the movie is simple yet effective much like the first few video games. Normally, The Earthrealm must assemble the best fighters from around the world before Shang Tsung and the Outworld champions can win the Mortal Kombat tournament and take over the world. In this version, Earth’s champions are selected by a dragon mark that appears on their skin so they can fight in the tournament.
For Cole Young, the mark is on him since birth. For other fighters, it appears on their skin when they defeat other fighters and this allows them to unlock their “arcana” which is a roundabout way of explaining they can do fire or laser tricks. This is possibly a way to make sense of the seeming randomness of the powers in the games but, personally, not needed for me to enjoy the insane, gory fight scenes. Also, not to get too much into overt spoilers, but of course the story unfolds in typical tentpole movie fashion with having an ending that sets up further sequels. Sometimes its hidden well or written in a more sly way but here, its a little too on the nose, but having said that, I’d gladly sign up for more in this franchise.
At the end of the day, the story of the movie is just a conduit to get us to get those sweet fight scenes directly into our veins. The prologue, the origin of the Scorpion/Sub-Zero rivalry, has a very well choreographed fight with Hanzo and the Sub-Zero’s Lin Kuei assassins and gives you a preview of the gore we were missing from previous live action adaptations. From there, I’d say the fights are more hit than miss. Cole Young’s MMA fight to introduce his character is pretty lame which one could argue could have been cut and had his character introduced in a different way. Sadly Goro’s only fight, while an improvement on the original animatronic version of Goro, is a CGI mess and another lame fight for Cole Young. All others I’d say are admirable and are ripe with the gory fun that we’ve come to love in the video games.
Another win for lovers of Mortal Kombat lore are the many characters that make appearances and are done in faithful way. Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Jax and several others look like they came right out of the video games while others like Kano, Scorpion and Shang Tsung have slight changes to their look and characterization but are very effective to varying degrees in the movie. They change Kano to be the de facto comic relief in the movie, which could have gone horribly wrong with a lesser actor, but Josh Lawson absolutely nails all the dirty jokes and the offbeat humor that is needed for the character. Although I’ve liked the actor Chin Han in a lot of other roles that he’s been in (The Dark Knight, Arrow), for me, he was very miscast as Shang Tsung. He didn’t express any of the menace or cunning intellect that I think Shang Tsung needs to be a great villain, which in turn made the movie suffer by not having a clear strong villain.
Much like a ton of the Warner Brothers’ intellectual property that they have been churning out this year, Mortal Kombat was a highly anticipated redux at the popular video game franchise. It may land lukewarm for some but overall, I think if you go into the movie wanted to be entertained by some gory, nasty fatality fun, you will not be disappointed.
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