Dir: Simon McQuoid. Writers: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham (screenplay) & Oren Uziel.
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Laura Brent & Matilda Kimber.
Anyone who was about in 1992 may remember the first Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet. That addictive, bone-crunching, spike impaling, digital-sprite-based fun that was Mortal Kombat. It took our coins and rewarded us with a fighting game unlike any other, mostly due to its innovative fatalities. Of course, for most of us, that meant occasionally punching someone off a bridge and into a pit of spikes. For me, it wasn’t until the home console versions, that I truly got to experience it in all its gory glory - even if that did mean having to pause the game, check the notes you had written down, or the tips page you had torn from a magazine in order to get the right button combination to make your fatality work, and then fucking things up and simply somersaulting into your opponent, rather than filling your opponent’s head with lightning and making it explode. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a Hell of a lot of fun.
In 1995, Mortal Kombat was on its third instalment and possibly even more exciting for fans; the Mortal Kombat movie was released. The movie was a financial success, despite its cheesiness, slightly unconvincing CGI, and a complete lack of gore. I wasn’t too bothered either way about the movie; certainly not enough to watch it in the cinema. Partially due to the lack of the franchises trademark gore and that despite the series being rated ‘M for mature’, the movie went for a safe PG13 rating.
One terrible sequel later, and it seemed as though fans would never get to see the Mortal Kombat they craved on the big screen. The videogames went from strength to strength - mostly - if we ignore the spin-offs and Mortal Kombat 4 anyway. Despite various animated shows, comics and even a well-received series, the chances of a movie that felt true to the energy and carnage of the games felt slim.
2021’s Mortal Kombat finally brings a faithful adaptation to the big screen, wisely keeping the character count reasonably minimal to keep things less confusing, delivering exciting fight scenes, great special effects and finally delivering on the blood and gore.
The story centres on an MMA fighter - who mostly seems to earn his money by means of getting his arse kicked every fight - named Cole (Lewis Tan). Cole bears a rather odd dragon-shaped birthmark, that he discovers from a man named Jax (Mehcad Brooks) identifies him as one of Earth’s - or rather Earthrealm’s - greatest champions.
Along with Jax, Cole teams up with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) & Kung Lao (Max Huang) to enter a tournament against the forces of the soul-eating Shang Tsung (Chin Han).
Now, I was never that invested in the story of Mortal Kombat when it came to the videogames. I just wanted to have a laugh with my mates as we beat the crap out of each other before then slicing someone in half with a razor-sharp hat. And the same goes here for the movie. It’s not that I didn’t care about a plot, just that what there is of one feels needlessly convoluted for such a thin premise.
Now, I may need to watch it again as I may have missed a few points - and I will be watching it again because I enjoyed it anyway - but there were a few things that didn’t make sense. For the bad guys to gain domination of Earthrealm, they have to win ten combat - sorry, Kombat - tournaments. They have already won nine but are seemingly unsure of a tenth victory and decide to cheat by attempting to eliminate their opponents rather than face them in the actual tournament.
Like I’ve said, the plot of the game was never that important to me, so how accurate the story is in comparison to the established lore, I have no idea.
Fortunately, the action comes thick and fast, with characters resembling their digital/polygonal counterparts accurately. Sure, there is a fair dollop of cheesiness on display with actors doing their best to be taken seriously whilst saying things such as "Fatality" or "Flawless victory." But that sort of thing was to be expected. The gore is also accurate to the games, with characters using their finishing moves, be it Jax smashing someone’s skull into a red paste, or Kung Lao sliding someone into his hat and sawing them in half. It’s over-the-top fun that mimics the games accurately.
All the actors play their parts well, although I have to admit that my favourite was probably Josh Lawson’s portrayal of Kano. Where most of the characters are quite serious and stoic, Kano is a crazy Ocker bastard. He’s a prick, but he’s an oddly likeable prick.
The music fits the movie well, but if you’re anything like me, the name ‘Mortal Kombat’ evokes memories of someone shouting that name out, whilst being followed by a very catchy theme tune. And yes, that tune is here too. It’s been modernised, but it’s still present, and when it kicked in, it definitely made me smile.
The CGI too is very good and nowhere near as jarring as it was in the earlier movies - especially the second one. Nothing felt out of place, which is quite a feat when you have to create a character like Goro, who is basically an eight-foot-tall, four-armed ogre.
It’s not all positives though. As I said, the plot had a few moments that were felt either too convoluted, or arbitrary, or didn’t make sense. For example, where the bad guys have decided to take out their opponents prior to the tournament, the good guys pretty much do the same thing to retaliate. Sure, they might mumble something about how they’ll hold their own tournament, but they still just meet up with the bad guys and fight each other. So their definition of a ‘tournament’ is stretching the word to breaking point.
The biggest flaw though is in some of the editing during the fight scenes. There was just way too many quick cuts, that broke up the pacing, especially one notable moment before the credits had even appeared on screen, where two characters were fighting, and the camera switched from mid & close shots to a wide panning short for a second, then back up to them again. It would then jump to the wide shot once more but with the camera panning in the opposite direction. For me, it was just too noticeable, especially during times when, for example, you would get a shot change from one angle to another before returning to the original shot. As they were only for a second or two, they felt a little pointless. It’s a personal preference, but I would have liked less cutting between shots, and a little more cohesion to the action.
Despite my issues though, it was still an entertaining movie and the best movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat. It’s set up for a sequel, and I hope that it does well enough that we get to see one - maybe with some x-ray bone-breaking shots this time too.
It’s been a while since I played one of the games, mainly because I’m crap at fighting games, and my kids will beating me just by spamming the same move that I’m not skilled enough to escape from, but despite that, the film made we want to reinstall Mortal Kombat X on the Playstation and try it again. In fact, whilst writing this, I’ve decided to do exactly that.
The film has its flaws, but it also has enough charm, action, and fatalities to make it worth watching. It’s not a flawless victory, but it’s still a win and one that I’d happily experience again.
I do have a slight caveat for the review:
Sure, for me, it’s a 3/5: but if you are a fan of the series, it has the characters, the moves, and the memorable lines that will strike a chord with you, so add another star to my review and make it a 4/5, because you are probably going to love this movie.