It’s hard to believe Mortal Kombat as a franchise has been around for 29 years. The arcade fighting game released by Midway Games took the world by storm in 1992. It later inspired the 1995 movie by the same name. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, it wasn’t award-winning by any means. But Mortal Kombat (1995) didn’t take itself seriously and gave us what we really wanted! Classic characters coming to life on screen, cheesy lines also said in the video game, and, of course, well-choreographed fighting. I also can’t forget to mention the sick techno version of the iconic theme song as well!
Mortal Kombat has become much more complex and violent since its ’90s version. Containing more intense fatalities and finishing moves in its latest video game release, it’s no surprise that a reboot movie would be in the works! One could argue that it’s been in production for a quarter-century, given there was supposed to be a third installment that didn’t see the light of day. Anyone who has seen the awful 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) knows why.
Directed by newcomer Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat (2021) brings the latest video game to life with hopes of attracting a new generation to this long-standing franchise.
The first 10 minutes of the movie are spectacular. Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) fetches water for his family in a beautiful, idyllic village in 17th century Japan. However, the serenity is disturbed when Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) arrives with his goons, and the first fight sequence begins. That first combat we see between these two characters is one of the strongest, choreographed battles in the entire film. Hiroyuki Sanada is a marvelous actor. Known for his incredible skills in martial arts, it shows in all his fighting scenes.
However, this momentum grinds to a halt when the character building and training begins. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do the best job explaining the backstory or hashing out its characters. Anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise may feel a little confused. Various characters just show up, and it forces you to follow along. The majority of the 110 minutes is spent setting up a potential franchise of future films instead of providing us with anything truly satisfying.
The main frustration of this film is that it never gets to the actual tournament. The whole movie keeps hyping up this deathmatch Olympics that will determine the state of the Earthrealm, but we never actually see it. I wanted a more streamlined tournament movie with rounds of interestingly choreographed and horribly violent fights. Something the 1995 version did well, all things considered.
For an R-rated movie, Mortal Kombat really misses its opportunity to show bloody gore similar to the video game. That said, it does not shy away from it completely. For those easily turned off by graphic violence, this may not be appealing. Mortal Kombat really comes to life in its fight sequences and the few fatalities shown. You’ll wish there were more, frankly! We really only get a taste if that, and the movie overall plays out more like a PG-13 movie. Kung Lao (Max Huang) is the one to really give us the majority of the gimmicky lines known from the video games, but he delivers them well. I would argue he has one of the better action scenes when he slices a character in half with his razor-edged hat.
Unfortunately, the new character Cole Young (Lewis Tan) offers very little to the already well-known characters around him. He is bland and boring and doesn’t give us a lot to invest in. The fight scenes, in general, have little weight or impact to them. Usually, in an action movie of this caliber, you almost want to feel the pain and visually see the stress it causes on a body to battle that hard. However, Mortal Kombat takes a super hero approach. Everyone seems to be unscathed after almost every combat.
The final fight scene is worth watching. Bi-Han becomes the well known Sub-Zero and battles it out with another famously known character. No spoiler, though, since they don’t reveal who it is until this moment. It’s a great fight scene and maybe the only other one worth noting. Everything else just feels poorly choreographed and weirdly edited, and nothing jumps out or keeps your attention for too long.
None of the sordid arcade violence that makes the games so alluring and obscene is translated into Mortal Kombat the movie. Instead, Mortal Kombat comes off as a disjointed, halfhearted attempt to rehash something that probably was finished a long time ago. Maybe die-hard fans of the franchise will get more enjoyment watching this than I did, but, as far as fatalities go, this should be it.