By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In the 1990s, the video game Mortal Kombat became one of the hottest fighting video games in the world. With its photo-realistic graphics for the characters and its intense, gory, over-the-top violence, teens and young adults spent loads of money either playing the arcade versions or by purchasing the home video formats for various game consoles. Its vast success even spawned a short-lived movie franchise that never really lived up to the potential. Nearly thirty years later, a new movie adaptation is now out, promising the greatness that previous attempts failed to deliver. In a nutshell, my verdict is that the new movie does deliver on his promises of gory, over-the-top kills and fantastic fight sequences, but still falls a little short when it comes to original storytelling and character development. Nevertheless, Mortal Kombat (2021) is loads of wicked fun and is much more enjoyable than its cinematic predecessors.
The film follows a long-existing war between the realms of the “Outworld” and the “Earthrealm” for many centuries. In this fight-to-the-death, “chosen” warriors from both realms engaged in fierce battles for dominance over both realms. In the 17th century a fierce Earthrealm warrior Hanzo Hassashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) loses an intense battle versus rival Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) and his clan of ninjas. In the present day, Hanzo’s descendant Cole Young (Lewis Tan) a low-rent fighter, father, and husband, gets attacked by Bi-Han (now known as Subzero) in an attempt to prevent the prophecy of Hanzo’s bloodline rising to defeat the Outworld.
With the help of Special Forces officer Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), Cole and his family get to safety, but he soon discovers that he is now part of an even bigger war of good versus evil know as Mortal Kombat. Young joins warriors Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Kano (Josh Lawson) who seek the temple of Earthrealm leader Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) who must prepare them and other warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) for the inevitable fight against the Otherworld team lead by Shang Tsung (Chin-Han). Considering that only Kang and Lao are the only well-trained and experienced fighters in the group, indicates that the real work has only begun.
Written by Oren Uziel, Greg Russo, Dave Callahan, and directed by Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat utilizes martial arts, revenge story, and legacy tropes well enough to provide the background for a fun, thrilling, and wickedly gory action fest. Now, when I say, “well enough,” I mean that I wouldn’t expect a movie with deep, meaningful and soulful story material and characters. As I stated above, the movie does not offer phenomenal character or story development, but does use some smatterings of better, more fully realized material to build a world strong enough to deliver its well-choreographed and executed action, as well as the cheap thrills that are to be expected from a Mortal Kombat adaptation.
The actors cast in the movie’s roles deliver a mix of performances that range from adequate to appropriately theatrical. I am sure most people going into this movie are not expecting award calliber realizations, so this shouldn’t be a problem. For the most part, the cast members work well enough within this world and have enough charm and charisma to keep audiences invested. The only true standout in the movie is actor Josh Lawson who portrays the mercenary-turned-warrior Kano. Developed and portrayed as an opportunistic scoundrel, Lawson uses his skills of great comic-timing and quick-witted delivery, and bad attitude to make his take on Kano one of the most entertaining elements of the film.
This element of comedy, mixed with well-executed and produced action and violence makes this adaptation of Mortal Kombat stand tall above the previous attempts at adaptating this popular video game series. People unfamiliar with the game franchise will either be initiated as new fans, or will be left flat with what the movie has to offer. As for me, I have played a few of the Mortal Kombat video games in the past and definitely recognized the references in the film. And I feel like the real, diehard fans, as well as the casual ones, are the target audience for this adaptation. These are are the people who will have the most fun with Mortal Kombat and will want much more out of this potential franchise. The solid foundations have been set and I feel like a bigger, hopefully better sequel will be in cinema’s future. Mortal Kombat is now in theaters and will also be available for streaming on HBO Max.