It’s not often that I go into a movie worrying about whether it will be too well done. But such was the case with Mortal Kombat (2021). Dating all the way back to the original arcade game in October of 1992, Mortal Kombat has walked the line between ridiculous and insane. From the 1995 Paul W.S. Anderson film to Mortal Kombat 11, the series has always been done with a light hearted and crazy touch.
Which is why I am so delighted to report that Mortal Kombat (2021) is thankfully very stupid. Let’s break it down.
Mortal Kombat (2021) takes a few liberties with the established canon of the games, which believe me, is fine. It maintains the over-arching lore that the evil and villainous Outworld wants to invade Earthrealm. To do so, they must defeat the warriors of Earth in ten straight Mortal Kombat tournaments. As the movie picks up, they have won 9.
Unlike the 1995 film, this film’s main character is an original character named Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Despite being the main character, the story itself centers more on the ages old conflict between Bi Han AKA Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) and Hanzo Hasashi AKA Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Years after Scorpion’s death, his descendant is prophesized to win the 10th Mortal Kombat tournament. To prevent this, Shang Tsung (Chin Han), has been sending his warriors to Earthrealm in secret to kill Earth’s champions before the final tournament. The movie picks up with only a few of Earth’s warriors remaining.
So wait, when’s the tournament?
It’s kind of a surprise to learn that Mortal Kombat itself doesn’t actually feature in the movie. Instead, this film covers the lead up to the tournament as Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) assembles and trains the last of Earth’s heroes. Among the crew are Cole Young, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks). They’re joined by Ludi Lin as Liu Kang and Max Huang as Kung Lao.
Despite the movie not featuring Mortal Kombat itself, there is still plenty of fighting in 1 on 1 scenarios. The movie basically calls this out, as Cole quips “they don’t want a tournament, so that’s exactly what we’ll give them.”
I’m not going to spoil much else. Beyond that, the movie is a Simon McQuoid directed excuse to watch people disembowel each other and eat popcorn for a couple hours. If you’re looking for a proper Mortal Kombat tournament, you’re going to have to wait for the sequel.
Is it good?
Of course it’s not good! It’s not supposed to be good! It’s a violent, gory, martial arts flick based on a popular video game franchise. And that’s okay! Mortal Kombat (2021) is exactly what it’s supposed to be.
It’s a flashy excuse for Warner Bros to let us see the Shokan Prince Goro get an axe in the side. Admittedly, the Johnny Cage line “Those were 500 dollar sunglasses, asshole” is sorely missing.
I watched the movie on HBO Max, and I’ll be the first to admit that this film was definitely meant for the big screen. As fun as it was watching on my couch, I could help but think that what was missing was a tub of popcorn, 3 friends, and a comically oversized drink.
But none of that is to say the movie is bad. It gave me all the things I needed to see in a Mortal Kombat movie. A bunch of bad ass action sequences, loosely strung together by a weak plot, cheesy acting, and shoe-horned in lines.
And yes, I know I’m a hypocrite. I’ve put movies through the wringer for lesser infractions than this. So let’s talk about some of the praise worthy moments that made this movie worth it.
Actors on the set expressed that they were exhausted and mentally drained at the end of filming. This movie has so much fighting and action crammed into an hour and 50 minutes that the actors were worked to death trying to film it all.
But it’s a labor of love that definitely translated into the finished product. The fighting is what makes the movie worth it, and to be fair, it’s all that was ever going to matter. Every fight feels different, and every character’s fighting style fits in with the themes of their character. Liu Kang fights like a Wu Shi warrior while Kano is more of a rough and tumble bar-room brawler.
Each character has to unlock his arcana through emotional turmoil of some form. Wait a second. A group of heroes have to unlock their superpowers, first by being chosen and then going through emotional turmoil? This is just X-Men! In all seriousness though, it was a stupid and unnecessary addition that I hope they ignore in future sequels.
Yea, I’m not going to lie, the effects are pretty good. Not all of them, but most of them feel pretty spot on. Liu Kang’s fire looks pretty legit, and Sub-Zero’s ice is particularly good. I also really enjoyed the scene where Mileena’s mouth opens all the way, that looked pretty damn cool.
I’m admittedly not the best judge of effects, so I’m sure some people will disagree with my assessment of this film. But I’ll say this. Very few effects made me go “oh no, that was not good!” For the most part, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the scenes for what they were.
Overall, Mortal Kombat (2021) is what it needed to be. A stupid excuse to turn your brain off for two hours. Far from a flawless victory, but certainly not a fatality for the franchise.
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Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment