Mortal Kombat has been a long-time favorite of my life. I can remember playing Mortal Kombat on the SNES when I was four and watching the 1995 movie for the first time when I was six. I was hooked. I continued to play the games and follow the crazy history that unfolded over the years. I was mainlining The Immortals’ Techno Syndrome for a week straight leading to opening weekend. Can the 2021 Mortal Kombat live up to the hype or will it be another Fatality for video game movies?
Mortal Kombat as a franchise has a long and overly complicated story, but luckily enough the movie only adapts the first game. Short synopsis of MK 1: Earthrealm is in hot water as Outworld looms with nine consecutive wins of the Mortal Kombat tournament. With a tenth win Outworld has the justification of invading Earthrealm. Protector of Earthrealm, Raiden, brings together Earthrealm’s champions to stop the looming invasion.
The 2021 film takes the overall story and plays around with its history to bring this world to life. Shang Tsung is set to win the tenth tournament even if he must cheat to do so. He sends his forces to Earthrealm to take out their champions. From the characters’ powers to their backstories, things are adapted to suit the new story. One of the major tweaks is the addition of a new kombatant Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan (Into the Badlands and Deadpool 2). His fish-out-of-water perspective gives the audience members who are not familiar with this world an easy way to get up to speed on his situation, and what the cost is if Outworld wins. His journey of finding his “arcana” and the will to fight makes him into one of Earthrealm’s warriors.
Arcana and the dragon marks are introduced to help explain how characters can shoot fireballs or lasers out of their eyes. The dragon mark claims them as champions and that gives them their unique superhuman abilities, arcana. It makes sense as to why people like Sonya Blade can fight against ice manipulating ninjas or reptilian humanoids.
From the fight choreography to the costumes, the movie goes to great lengths to ensure that the nearly 30 years of Mortal Kombat history is there for fans of the games. You can find multiple easter eggs splashed around the film from mention of characters like Bo’ Rai Cho to pictures of Kotal Kahn and Nightwolf. It gives spotlight to lesser-known characters like Nitara and Reiko and fanboy moments of “Oh, he did the thing! He did the thing”. Not to mention the main attraction of Mortal Kombat, the thing that created the ESRB rating system, Fatalities. It heartily deserves the R rating for how far it is willing to take to bring them to life in all its bloody glory. It is a far cry from the PG-13 and simple fight choreography of the 1995 version.
The story itself is good, but not the best. What can you expect from shoving an 8–10-hour game to two hours of runtime? The first and final thirds of the film are great, filled with action and story beats. The middle is kind of slow and bogs the momentum carried on from the first third of the film. The writing is a bit tongue in cheek with quotes and jokes, however they do not seem too corny or forced. Some slight CG special effects are a little wonky, but most of the time it is spot on and looks great.
The actors bring every character to life and make them feel incredibly special. Hiroyuki Sanada (Avenger: Endgame and The Last Samurai) brings that fiery fury to the hell wraith Scorpion. Joe Taslim (The Raid and The Night Comes for Us) brings that cold and cruel personality of Sub-Zero/Bi-Han. Finally, Kano, who steals about every scene he is in, is played by Josh Lawson (House of Lies and The Little Death). He brings out the best of the egotistical and thuggish leader of the Black Dragon crime syndicate.
The movie is a definite watch. It clearly shows a reverence for the source material while bringing some well-crafted additions to the expanding universe. The little details and rich history it’s drawing from makes it all worth the price of admission, or if you already have HBO Max then add it to your list. Not a flawless victory but a great addition along with the 1995 film. Just forget about Annihilation. If you want more, do not worry, it heavily implies a sequel filled with more kombatants and more gory fun. Also, Joe Taslim is signed-on for like four more.
Images courtesy of Midway Games, Kombat Kronicles and Warner Bros.
Leave a Reply