The 1995 live-action adaptation of Mortal Kombat has been considered the holy grail of video game adaptations by movie goers and fans alike. It has the right amount of game inferences, 90s camp, and humor. Who could ever forget the iconic beckon of ‘MORTAL KOMBAT’ during the opening credits. It has ingrained itself in pop culture. While the game franchise rolls on strong, the movie universe stopped to a halt. 1997’s Mortal Kombat Annihilation didn’t exactly make matters easier. Twisting and contorting through developmental stages, we arrive at the present day. A day and age where a Mortal Kombat movie could finally capitalize on the brutal violence of the game, unlike the PG-13 rating of the 1995 version. While promises of fatalities and animalities are a given, there’s also a chance to build upon the lore of games past. Could an MK movie be fun, violent, and display a story that’s more than just window dressing?
2021’s reboot centers on MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) who is on the downside of his career and taking local fights for $200 a pop. It just so happens that he has a dragon mark. This insignia shows that you are chosen as a champion to defend earth from the evil forces of Outworld in Mortal Kombat. As the story goes, Earthrealm has lost nine times in a row. One more slip up and Outworld moves in as new management. Cole finds himself as one piece of a bigger story where a deadly encounter with Sub Zero/Bi Han (Joe Taslim) leads him to a group of allies. Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) just to name a few. They team up to find Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) in order to train for the coming threat of Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his gang of minions.
The banter from Lawson’s portrayal of Kano is one highlight of the film. He’s brash, sarcastic, and really only looks out for himself. It creates a comedic atmosphere in the uneasy allyship between him to the rest of the group. As a whole cast, everybody does their best to match their video game counterparts. Granted there is more substance with some characters than others. Director Simon McQuoid made sure that he paid attention to things you would recognize from the game. Catchphrases, each character’s signature ‘arcana,’ and basic plot points will fill familiar to fans of the franchise. Also, it’s not too distant for somebody who is just getting into Mortal Kombat for the first time.
A couple of issues that the film runs into is the lack of the tournament itself and some stylistic fight sequence choices. The 10th battle between Outworld and Earthrealm is alluded to a lot in conversation. Yet, it never really develops past inferences. It feels like a plot device to ready a universe or sequels in the future. Good guys come together to prepare, and the bad guys are determined to break the rules. Mortal Kombat feels like two teams coming together for a bunch of random fights. With the fight scenes, there are a lot of quick cuts and the combinations seem like a build-up for the fatalities. With an R-rating, one would think that was an opportunity to lean into that aspect more. It earns that designation at conclusions of conflict, rather than establishing from the start.
In the very beginning, Mortal Kombat shows the blood feud between Bi Han and Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) in 17th-century Japan. When they get screen time together, this is the best relationship the movie has to offer. Taslim comes off very menacing as a villain and when he appears, Sanada gets to show his quest for revenge against him. Cole Young’s arc is almost similar to Liu Kang’s in the 1995 film. He has to find his confidence in order to become the leader he needs to be. Unfortunately, outside of him protecting his family, his characterization feels average compared to those around him.
If you’re looking for a film that strives to capture what you loved about the previous version, there is some wiggle room. 2021’s MK is a more like the Sega Genesis version of the original game. More blood, broken bones, classic characters, and severed appendages. As a composition that looks to break the “video game adaptation” curse – it still has a way to go. There are some pieces that can certainly steer this universe in that direction. It first has to decide what it wants to be.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.