Mortal Kombat (2021) is a "Flawed Victory"!
I like so many others are fans of the Mortal Kombat videogame series since the 90’s thanks to its brutal gameplay, bizarre assortment of characters, worldbuilding blend of martial arts, mysticism and paying homage to the Kung Fu films of old especially Enter the Dragon. So, after two previous live action adaptations and a bunch of webisodes, (Mortal Kombat: Rebirth) here we are with a whole new reboot of the franchise. But does it live up to the videogame counterpart or is the film itself a “Fatality”?
Well, “get over here” and read my brutally honest review but be warned, there are a few spoilers ahead!
In 2021’s Mortal Kombat, the film directed by newcomer Simon McQuoid, starts off with a promising setup taking place back as far as 17th century Japan where Hanzo Hasashi a former assassin of the Shirai Ryu ninja clan, is living a peaceful life with his wife and children, that is until Bi-Han (Sub Zero for the uninitiated out there.) and his boys from the rival gang the Lin Kuei, does a “drive by” (Pardon the Bloods and Crips metaphor) and murder’s Hanzo’s family but not without a mortally wounded Hanz getting some payback. A Thunder God appears and sorry, it’s not Marvel’s Thor, but Raiden who is like The Watcher, surveys the massacre and finds Hanzo's surviving infant daughter.
Cue to the static title card “MORTAL KOMBAT”
Fast forward to the present, is where we are introduced to Cole Young, an MMA tournament fighter trying to make ends meet for his family and in steps a bald black man who notices something unique about Cole, and right away, most of us are aware that its Jackson Briggs aka Jax who inquires Cole’s infamous "Dragon" birthmark on his chest, and it just so happens, that Jax has the same mark as well. This brand serves as a mini-MacGuffin when it is revealed that those who bear the mark, can release a mystical chi called "Arcana".
Of course, Cole will be deemed the "chosen one" and as predicted, he is from a blood lineage of the Shirai Ryu who must enter a tournament in the Outworld to prevent them from ruling Eatrhrealm (As in Earth) should they win the tournament of Mortal Kombat!
Mortal Kombat despite its big production value, as with 2020’s WW 84, is another disappointing entry for HBO MAX. One of the biggest mistakes is showcasing an all-too generic character, unrelated to the videogame series as the main protagonist. Even Paul Without Substance Anderson, was smart enough to have Liu Kang a direct homage to the legendary Bruce Lee, as the main lead. Lewis Tan’s Cole is flat out boring who feels more like some DLC for the videogame than a well-rounded character. The narrative is as predictable as a movie you have seen 30 times and practically devoid of any surprises.
For example, the videogame character introductions are sporadically shown via familiar traits like Reptile's acid drops or Sub Zero lowering the temperature to 20 degrees Celsius. So, right off the bat, you know who's about to crash the party.
Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) lacks an imposing presence, I mean the guy who was both the main lead from both the 1995 movie and the source material i.e. the videogames, comes off like a goddamn Museum Curator! "And right here is where we have the sacred amulet of..hey, don't touch that!" Happy to see Kabal making his first and last live action appearance. To McQuoid’s credit, his portrayal as the Antihero nomadic superspeed swordsman was accurate and there is a brief Nightwolf Easter Egg. Blink and you’ll miss it.
But the scene stealer goes to Josh Lawson’s Kano who comes off as this avatar of toxic masculinity yet has the most quotable deliveries that will leave you gasping from laughter! I had to rewind to a scene, where he condescendingly tells Kung Lao to pass the "Egg Rolls " and just when you think after getting a few lessons of humility, he might change his stripes but no, quite the opposite. As far as dialogue is concerned, one must prepare for the cheesy one liners taken straight from the videogame series.
Things get more ridiculous when you have "Iron Cole" who now “have the powweeeeerrr” equipped with blade tonfa appendages arriving back to Outworld via self-teleportation with his dramatic entrance only to be taken down by a fucking "Ice cream cone"! This, after a final conflict on Outworld leads to that big moment where our favorite rivals have that big face off, and even that was a bit of a letdown thanks to Cole who cannot decide whether to save his family trapped in ice or help to take down Sub Zero. Uh, actually goes back and forth proving himself to be a multitasking taskmaster.😆
Cut to the end where a omitted character is used for the closing scene, hinting that he will appear in the sequel, that is if there is one in the works!
Aside from saving graces like Joe Tslam's Sub Zero, fan favorites like Kabal, Kung Lao and Kano, Mortal Kombat is typical Hollywood popcorn fare just not in a particularly good way. It relies heavily on worn out cliches, thanks to lazy predictable screenwriting, a grandiose soundtrack, sloppy editing, profane "edgy" dialog with the noted exception of Kano, ABC Afterschool Special acting and to top it off, a generic protagonist who adds nothing to this movie, save for having a narrative to build on. Yeah, 1995's Mortal Kombat has its share of flaws, but it was more nuanced than what is presented here, even after 26 years!
Sorry not sorry MK fans, but this reboot is more of a 2-hour Easter Egg, and a rotten one at that.
Should you have a need to “test your might” as in patience, watch Mortal Kombat on HBO MAX while it’s still available.