Saturday 10 April 2021

Mortal Kombat (Movie Review)

Warner Bros. sure seems to be on a roll of late. And while the studio might still be busy basking in the glory of Godzilla vs. Kong's successful debut, that hasn't stopped them from going full steam ahead with the next film in their 2021 slate. That film is Mortal Kombat, the newest adaptation of the ultra-violent video game series that began its life in the early 90s. The film is currently scheduled for a same day release in US theaters and HBO Max, but started its international rollout this weekend.

In Mortal Kombat, a group of Earth's mightiest warriors have been chosen by the powers that be to fight in a tournament that would determine the fate of the world. This includes Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a mixed martial artist that was born with a strange dragon-shaped birthmark. After he finds himself and his family being hunted by a mysterious assassin named Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), he is forced to seek out a woman named Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) for help.

From Sonya he learns about a tournament between the various realms, and how this had been going on for centuries. The forces of the Outworld, led by a sorcerer named Shang Tsung (Chin Han), seek to take over the Earthrealm once and for all. And in order for Cole and his fellow warriors to defend it, they'd need to undergo training under the tutelage of the god of Thunder, Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

As a long-time fan of the Mortal Kombat games, I had approached this latest adaptation with a fair amount of skepticism. A project like this, with a first-time director and a cast populated by B and C-list stars, more often than not ends up falling short of its full potential. Also, there is the fact that I was yet to truly recover from the trauma of watching Liu Kang transform into that CGI dragon in the last film in the franchise. So yes, this latest film had a lot to prove. And prove it it does. 

The fight scenes were tightly choreographed, and the special effects were convincing in a cartoonish sort of way. I was especially surprised by just how funny the movie was, and most of that was due to Josh Lawson's portrayal of Kano. He had the whole theater where I saw the movie bawling with laughter, taking what should have been the film's most obnoxious character and making it its most endearing.

The story of the movie on the other hand was just so-so, but they can only do so much with the premise being carried over from the games, so this shouldn't really come as a surprise. The decision to focus much of that story on the rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero did lend the movie most of its emotional core. But this also contributed to what I felt was my biggest issue with the film.

For a movie called Mortal Kombat, I had expected to see something resembling the proper tournament we got in the 1995 film. But the closest thing we got to that here was a montage of several match ups that were taking place at the same time. It didn't feel like we had a group of fighters working their way up the ladder towards one final confrontation, or that the tournament itself was operating by any kind of discernible rules, the way it did in the video games.

Another issue I had with the movie was the way it just sort of fizzled out at the ending, as though the filmmakers were not quite sure where or how to end it. It is not that the ending was underwhelming per se, but the movie ends right when it felt like things were about to get good, making the whole thing feel like mere setup for future films.

It is also worth noting that the film is excessively violent, with enough blood and gore to make even horror fans squirm. But I think that should go without saying, given its source material and its storied history. It definitely earns its R-rating. So if you fancy watching a man rip a bat-winged woman in two with a weaponized hat, and hearing him call out "flawless victory" afterwards, then you're in for a bloody good time. 

Mortal Kombat works because it fully embraces the tongue-in-cheek nature of its source material. Unlike previous entries in the series, which tended to take themselves a little too seriously, this one strikes a nice balance between comedy and action. Its self-awareness elevates what would've otherwise been another retread into something that is sure to please fans of the games and the earlier movies alike.


  1. I'd watch a bat-winged person get ripped in half. We still have HBO Max (and probably will the rest of the year) so I'll watch it in two weeks.

  2. Kano stole the first one. It’s appropriate that he steals this one, too! Good to know.

    1. I didn't even remember that about the first movie, until now. It's been so long. Lol. Perhaps it's time I give it another watch.