Mortal Kombat Review

image from Moviz Ark!

Blake Darmante, Broadcast Editor

Mortal Kombat 2021 is similar to it’s 1995 counterpart, lovable and cringy, but so very flawed. The movie was peppered with the brutal action sequences and one liners fans have come to expect of the franchise; however, poor writing made the 110 minute feature feel impersonal and left audiences craving context that should have been addressed. 

General information and brief plot summary

The movie was directed by Simon McQuoid who , up until Mortal Kombat, was known for directing advertisements. When selecting a cast for his first “big-time” directorial debut, McQuoid targeted who he felt would deliver the best character performances. The film stars Lewis Tan, Joe Taslim, Ludi Lin, and Jessica McNamee among other actors/actresses.   

One of the refreshing aspects of this Mortal Kombat was the original approach to the storyline. Instead of following Lui Kang (Ludi Lin), McQuoid and his team created an all new character whom the plot revolves around, Cole Young. Despite being born with a mysterious dragon tattoo on his neck, Cole Young has lived a fairly normal life. One night, Cole’s tranquillity is interrupted by a blood thirsty Sub-Zero and an epic journey begins to unfold. Roped into the world of fatalities and arcanas, Cole soon discovers he is one of few people who are destined to defend Earthreallm in a great tournament, Mortal Kombat. With the fate of the world hanging in balance, other combatants soon join Cole to make a stand against the nefarious Outworld Champions, but victory cannot be achieved without total annihilation of the opposing fighters. How was the plot/storyline?

I find that the plot of this film appears promising on paper, but the actual execution was poor. There was so much potential for a great story and McQuoid and his writers ruined it with lazy writing. All the writers needed to do was provide some context for characters and their interactions, but very little if no context was provided. Interactions between characters were very shallow and that made it hard to be emotionally invested in their relationships. When the movie opened with a Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion sequence I was expecting an explanation as to why. Why did Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei hate Scorpion and the Shirai Ryu? I know the answer to this question because I’m an obsessed fanboy who has played video games, but if I had no prior knowledge the answer would remain a mystery because it was never explained during the 110 minute running time. In addition, most characters did not receive a proper introduction, they just showed up out of nowhere. For example, in the scene where Lui Kang is first shown to audiences he literally walks onto the screen from nowhere. The writers then proceeded to not explain or show Lui Kang’s backstory (there was that one scene where Lui talks about his past, but that doesn’t not constitute a meaningful backstory). Overall, I was craving more context and details so that I could become invested in the storyline and characters, it just never happened. 

Action and Visuals

While it could have used more, Mortal Kombat has some pretty solid and smartly choreographed action. Fight scenes incorporated a lot of environmental aspects which made for some interesting brutal scenarios such as skulls being smashed against rocks and walls being used as a means to propel fighters into an offensive. Each combatant’s fighting style felt specific to their character and that really helped to give them some form of identity the plot had failed to give them. At one point I thought that the camera angles could have been more dynamic because  (for the majority of the film) they showed fights from a spectator-style angle. However, I realized that this angle was probably purposeful as it made the movie’s fight scenes look like two-dimensional battles in the video game.  

I was only able to find two major critics with the fight/action scenes. The first was that the movie was 110 minutes of plotless wandering, which is fine, but that in turn created more of a demand for action and blood to make all that  time feel worth it. I wanted more of the fight scenes because they were pretty good considering how few there were. The second critic I have is the lack-luster fatalities. When fighters executed fatalities it would happen so fast that I barely had time to enjoy it. Also, the fatalities the directors included were not all too graphic and that subtracted from the intensity of the fights. Fatalities are supposed to be like a cherry on top of a hot-fudge sundae, but that final touch was missing. It is important to acknowledge that of all the fatalities there was one that was indeed really fantastic and it belonged to my favorite Mortal Kombat character, Kung Lao. The fatality known as “hat trick” was performed by Kung Lao and it was so incredibly well done that I wish the same level of effort would have been put into all the fatalities. 

From a visual standpoint there was nothing special about any of the filming locations, but where the visuals did shine was the CGI. Characters and abilities were the primary places CGI was used and it was seamlessly done. Goro and Reptile, characters done completely with CGI, looked very realistic, which demonstrated how far the filming industry has come since the original 1995 iteration. Sub-Zero who used a plethora of ice-based attacks, seemed believable, because the ice did not look fake. I’m glad that editors took so much time on the CGI because it really helped Mortal Kombat to be more immersive. 

Humor and Controversy *Spoilers in this paragraph*

Mortal Kombat was moderately funny with the vast majority of the humor stemming from character Kano. From his aggressive sarcasm to his Australian accent, Kano was serving up some pretty fresh and needed humor. Even his profane language was well placed and provided a chuckle when least expected, which was surprising considering how many times Kano swore (if there were 50 f-bombs Kano probably dropped 48 of them).

This movie was also host to some conspiracy, the main one being, “Where in the world was Johnny Cage?”  As one of the most iconic, fan-favorite characters many people (including myself) were upset that he wasn’t included in the movie. The only tribute paid to Johnny Cage was a last minute cameo where he is teased. After watching the movie a few times I have a guess as to why. Kano was the comic relief in this new installment of Mortal Kombat, but he suffers a rather embarrassing death at the hands of Sonya Blade. With the movie’s primary funny character gone, writers will need to create a new one and there is no Mortal Kombat character more notorious for being a sarcastic, arrogant, loud-mouth than Johnny Cage.   In other words, Cage might be Kano’s replacement.

Would I Recommend viewers watch “Mortal Kombat?”

I would recommend “Mortal Kombat” for anybody who enjoys action films. I have one disclaimer though, when I saw “Mortal Kombat” I had very high expectations and as a result I felt let down. If you decide to watch “Mortal Kombat” do so mindlessly and I think you will have a lot more fun than I did.