MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Release Date: 2021 | Runtime: 1hr 50min | Genre: Sci-Fi Action | Source: Rented
Mortal Kombat Review
….MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAAAAAT! DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO! DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DODODODO! MORTAL KOMBAAAAAT!! …*ahem*. There’s a new Mortal Kombat movie.
The release of Mortal Kombat has led to a lot of familiar refrains. “All video game movies suck.” “Ugh this will be trash like every other Mortal Kombat/video game movie.” I don’t buy into any of that. I could easily make a top five, probably even a top ten, of decent to good movies based on video games. Hell I believe that argument died in 1995 when the original Mortal Kombat movie came out. We recently revisited both the 90’s movies on our podcast (shameless plug for So Do We Still Like This) and that one is still a ton of fun. The sequel…is a movie that was made and nobody can take that away from them. I was all in for an R rated reboot that takes the material a little more seriously and I think that, for the most part, they pulled it off.
The first 10 minutes or so, which the studio posted online if you’re curious, are so good that it’s almost unfair to the rest of the movie to have to live up to them. It’s the origin story of Scorpion and it’s fantastic. Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion/Hanzo Hasashi puts in the best performance of the film and handles the action terrifically. The opening fight scenes are brutal, with the movie making use of its R rating almost immediately as spears penetrate faces and knives penetrate the tops of heads. It’s a great sequence and unfortunately lays groundwork that is never matched until the final act. Though don’t worry, there are still plenty of sharp objects penetrating body parts.
Mortal Kombat is not as much a story about Mortal Kombat as you would expect. I’ll give you the Coles Notes version of the story. So there’s Earth right? That’s us. And then there’s Outworld, run by Emperor Shang Tsung. He is not a good dude and wants to invade Earth along with a bunch of other not good dudes. The only way he can do this is to win Mortal Kombat (a fighting tournament) ten times in a row. The bad news is that he has won the last nine. The even worse news is that he’s a cheating asshole who is planning to kill Earth’s champions before the tournament begins so he can win by default. Earth ain’t having it but Shang Tsung is friends with ninjas and four armed monsters so he will take some convincing. Some fist convincing!
With a wealth of MK characters to choose from, it’s a little sad that our protagonist is Cole Young, a character invented solely for this movie. Cole is meant to be the everyman, the normal guy who take on the role of the audience member and learn about all this crazy stuff along with us. “Everyman” is code for “bland” though as Cole is not an interesting lead. He’s a fighter taking on low paying gigs to support his wife and daughter (which is also not very “everyman-y” of you Cole!) and of course has to learn to overcome a bunch of stuff to harness his true powers, etc. It’s hard to care about him when he is surrounded by guys with laser eyes and guys who can make ice and a lady with a reptile mouth who wields sais and any number of far more interesting characters. Any time we deal with this guy and his family you can’t help but wish the camera would instead follow after the guy with the robot arms so we could hang out with him more.
Many of the characters you would expect and hope for are here. I won’t list them all since it will just become a written character select screen, but there aren’t that many omissions and the missing characters are obviously being saved for planned sequels. Scorpion and Sub-Zero are the highlights, though they aren’t in the movie all that much. From the characters we spend a lot of time with, Kano (Josh Lawson) is easily the stand-out. Lawson doesn’t just steal the movie, he runs away with it and hides it so nobody else even has a chance of getting it back. The other performances range from only ok to good to begin with and it becomes far more noticeable when everyone has to be next to this guy. I don’t think he speaks a sentence without a “fuck” variation in there. He is the R rating personified.
Well that and the copious amounts of violence in the fight scenes. Most of it comes from the fatalities, of which there are many. Hearts are ripped out. Bodies are cut in half. Arms are shattered. There’s no shortage of carnage. The fights themselves could actually stand to be a little more brutal. In the games, you feel every hit as the fighters have blood constantly pouring out of every orifice and bones are being shattered. These fights don’t really have that until the finishing move at the very end (which are amazingly gruesome for the record). The fights themselves are overall pretty good. Some of the ones near the end very rushed and they are still a little over edited for my liking, but they are enjoyable.
What I really liked about the movie was its general tone. It takes the material seriously but is still cheesy and fun throughout. There are tons of references to the video games, everything from iconic dialogue to special moves to spamming the same attack over and over to cheaply win a fight (that one really hit home for me). It all finds a good balance of being silly but without mocking the source material. Too many movies fall back on making fun of its origins, like having Ant-Man admit Ant-Man is a dumb name or Wolverine insulting their comic costumes. Don’t do that movies. Convince us instead that that shit is awesome! Mortal Kombat does a very good job of supporting its thesis that “this shit is indeed awesome.”
It’s hard to compare this to the 1995 Mortal Kombat because each movie is trying to do its own thing. I think there are pros and cons to each. I had a lot of fun with the 2021 version, even if it doesn’t quite nail it. It makes the mistake a lot of franchise starters make of holding back some of the shit we would want to see until the not guaranteed sequel, but I hope they get to keep it all going. I’ll definitely be there for round two.
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