With a frantic pace reminiscent of a kid smashing buttons on a controller Mortal Kombat almost feels rushed through the door. However, that isn’t to place it in an entirely negative connotation. The 2021 reboot knows when not to overstay its welcome. Focussing most of the energy on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), there isn’t as much to absorb characteristically with him as Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). Cole is about as flat as his name. Experiencing the journey through the eyes of a protagonist who acts as an avatar for the audience to know each fighter isn’t the best way to gauge my interest in the drama between the blows.
The motivation for Cole is basic screenwriting. His family is in danger, so he joins the MK tournament to protect them. Meanwhile, what has happened with Scorpion in the first few minutes is fantastic. Be advised, don’t watch any trailers or the opening seven minutes Warner Bros has uploaded online, or you’ll have already seen the best parts of the movie. The opening itself is what vastly differentiates the tone from Mortal Kombat (2021) to Mortal Kombat (1995). The characters aren’t just on camera to look cool. They have underlying motivations driven by grief and anger until we get to the main story, where it’s all about introducing fighters to be either victorious or gruesomely murdered.
Please make no mistake; I’m not walking into Mortal Kombat expecting Hamlet. But why raise my hopes only to give me a bloodier version of the original film but with a faster pace. As a fan of the games, I loved some of the winks at the camera that mostly lands. The leg sweep bit was hilarious. Finally, after decades of being stuck with a PG-13 incarnation of the game that created the ESRB, I get to see some guts spill all over the floor. The fatalities are plentifully gruesome, as one could ask for in a reboot. When the delight of the violence wears off, like any film, I want to have some engagement with the story no matter what it’s based on. From The Lego Movie to To Kill A Mockingbird, a movie exists to tell a tale. When an opportunity is presented to go with a thrilling story, don’t revert to complete fan service.
Before Ed Boon and John Tobias’ creative team gave Scorpion and Sub Zero (Joe Taslim) a back story, they were simply interchangeable colored ninja suites. The blue one is ice; the yellow one is fire; the green one is a lizard. As the years went on, we found out about Sub Zero’s allegiance with the Lin Kuei. Scorpion’s name Hanzo Hasashi carried a heavy past.
The story modes in the game reboots weren’t tremendous but provided enough to chew on with any of the characters to create stories that are way more fascinating than the tournament itself. I appreciate how in 2020, we don’t have Christopher Lambert playing the God of lightning who sounds like he’s from America. That is not to say I didn’t love the campy value he brought to the screen. Chin Han makes a chilling Sub Zero whose villainy stretches beyond his depiction in the games. Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden offers a degree of gravitas to the role of a God despite looking far too young to be an elder. Of course, the real star of the show is Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion. Just make the Scorpion movie or show already. Cartoons don’t cut it for his tale.
Where Mortal Kombat shines in action, it sometimes slips on its blood when balancing its mood—stuck between 1995 with its goofy nature and 2021 playing some elements with some of that Christopher Nolan grit. Simon McQuoid’s film struggles to find a voice. The film would go from humorous to sad, then back to humorous, at a rapid pace. Midway through the second act, the movie seems to be racing towards the finish line. The editing was more subdued initially, taking its time introducing each character. The final 40 minutes becomes preoccupied with shoving more characters on screen when we’ve already gotten invested in the central cast of fighters. Wildly cutting between bouts, I almost forgot how some warriors wound up with other ones. The saving grace to all this is its entertainment value.
Even with a fan service over substance plot, I never felt bored watching Mortal Kombat. There was hardly any time checking until the next fight. Unlike Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, I wasn’t bombarded with endless, pointless fights that had no consequences attached to them. Leaving the room open for sequels, along with some exciting world-building, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more from this iteration of Mortal Kombat through various live-action mediums. For being braindead entertainment, the movie puts up a decent fight.
Do you agree with my rating?