Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Written by: Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (screenplay by), Oren Uziel and Greg Russo (story by), based on the videogame by Ed Boon and John Tobias.
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Sisi Stringer, Max Huang
Synopsis (IMDB): MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Hello, Internet, I am back again with another movie review this week. It involves another adaptation of a video game series. Released by Warner Brothers, a film studio in a state of crisis thanks to fans crying #RestoretheSnyderverse, here’s the worldwide videogame phenomenon-turned film known as Mortal Kombat.
Mortal Kombat is the famous fighting franchise known for its brutal fighting and staple phrases such as “FINISH HIM”, “FATALITY”, and “TEST YOUR MIGHT.” As a part-time gamer, I was aware of what Mortal Kombat is, but I’ve never played it. I’ll stick with games like Super Smash Bros to have fun just beating the opponent without brutally killing them. A part of me was curious to go on YouTube to see what the games are like. What keeps me away from these games was how graphic the violence being displayed on screen is. It made me think of how disturbing it is for the video game industry to sensationalize God Of War and Grand Theft Auto for their ultra-level violence. I will say this: The film Mortal Kombat is fun for the fans, but it’s not for everyone.
The plot of the game series/movies is about a fighting tournament involving the champions of a Mordor-esque landscape called Outworld led by Shang Tsung who hosts the tournament. The champions of Earthrealm, led by the God of Thunder and guardian of Earthrealm Lord Rayden all compete in Mortal Kombat against the Outworld competitors. The stakes are higher for Earthrealm’s champions because Outworld has won 9 times and only needs one more win to invade Earth.
It sounds like a plot of a surreal episode on Cartoon Network’s Regular Show. With that said, the plot makes sense in the games and it can work in a movie if the script is written correctly. The 1995 original movie was hilariously enjoyable. The 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is hilariously awful. I see why fans want to see their favorite characters pull brutal finishing moves that warrants an R rating. It’s exactly what the 2021 reboot did, but it also sacrificed an interesting story.
The original 1995 movie showcased the tournament as it was in the games and established a sense of urgency. There is no tournament in this movie and the urgency is nonexistent. From my understanding of the series, the tournament is an essential aspect of Mortal Kombat. It makes me wonder, “Why does this feel more like a prequel to the actual tournament?” It does not put audiences to sleep, but it follows the tired video game movie trope of introducing a new person who is not from the games to get the audience interested in the story. But, there are also a lot of ultra-violent fights that will make your head turn away from the screen while pleasing hardcore fans. It’s an improvement from the 90s movies, but the fights do not make up for a lackluster cliché story.
The cast is a mixed bag for me. Lewis Tan as the new studio-mandated character Cole Young was not interesting. I cannot relate to his character because I am not an MMA fighter. Warner Bros. execs wanted a character to be the archetype for the audience who are new to the franchise. His character and his family (both played by Laura Brent and Matilda Kimber) should have been removed from the story and more focus should have gone to the characters from the game. Cole being a part of the family bloodline to Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) feels tacked-on, and Scorpion’s storyline also felt cliché.
Sanada as Scorpion did not have enough screen time besides the opening prologue, some Candyman-esque scenes, and shows up in the final fight. Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero, Scorpion’s enemy from the Lin Kuei clan, shows up to do be the cliché menacing evil henchman with few bits of dialogue. Mehcad Brooks as Major Jackson Briggs, aka “Jax,” was good, but there was not enough development to really care. The same applies to Jax’s special forces partner Sonya Blade, played by Jessica McNamee, who is there to deliver plot exposition and like everyone else, just fight. Ludi Lin as the Shalon Monk fighter Liu Kang did good as well as Max Huang’s Kung Lao.
Chin Han as Shang Tsung was also good in his performance, but I wish there were more character development. Sisi Stringer as Mileena had very little to offer other than to look frightening to fight against. Tadanobu Asano as Lord Rayden was ethnically correct and distinguishable from Christopher Lambert and James Remar’s versions of Rayden, but he was more of an unapproving drill Sargent rather than a wise benevolent figure. Kano, played by Josh Lawson, was interesting, but annoying. I have to commend him for livening up the movie with dry humor, but in the games, he’s evil. Why have him on the good guys’ team in the first movie instead of introducing him in a sequel? I may have left out other people, but all of the characters except Kano were too serious and not very interesting.
This movie is solely dedicated to Mortal Kombat fans while enticing new fans to the series. It’s a good attempt but it takes itself too seriously. It goes the 2015 Fantastic Four route of taking a franchise that is silly and fun and making it gritty and serious. In terms of tone, the new Mortal Kombat film makes the 1995 version better.
Much like how the original movie ended, the new Mortal Kombat has scenes setting up a sequel. It’s sad how after the MCU became a huge phenomenon in their storytelling, other franchises and studios tried to have scenes attempting to create a rushed franchise instead of telling a complete story. It is a watchable film, but people who are not hardcore fans of the franchise have to be mindful of what they are getting into.
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*If you want to learn more about why Warner Bros. created Cole Young as the audience avatar, Go to https://www.inverse.com/entertainment/cole-young-mortal-kombat-spoilers-scorpion and learn more.
*Julian Jones is a sociology student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. When he’s not studying or watching films, he’s practicing for his next performance with the UAB Chamber Singers. Let him know what you thought of his review by leaving him a comment below!