The film industry has had a pretty interesting run when it comes to video game adaptations. From the horrors of the original Super Mario Bros movie to the 2020 debut of Sonic the Hedgehog, video game flicks are unpredictable. Therefore, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little nervous upon hearing about Simon McQuoid’s take on the 1992 arcade game Mortal Kombat. Thankfully, this new martial arts flick does plenty to satisfy both gaming fans while simultaneously providing moviegoers with a decent night at the cinema. Toasty!
If you’re familiar with the concept of NetherRealm Studios’ series of fighting games, then you’ll perhaps know what to expect from Mortal Kombat 2021. Alternatively, you might have also seen the original Mortal Kombat film from 1995. If so, then you’ll know that the whole affair is based around a group of warriors brutally bashing each other’s skulls in. While there’s actually more to it than that, the jist is that the fate of humanity hinges on the franchise’s titular tournament.
Of course, while the Mortal Kombat games provide a grotesque giggle first and foremost, McQuoid’s 2020 flick actually takes itself seriously. Or, at least the film’s intro does. In fact, the film’s first act provides us with a compelling back story, one that introduces us to one of the series’s most iconic characters, Scorpion. I mean, there had to be a reason he keeps sounding “get over here!” right?
It’s worth mentioning that while Mortal Kombat’s intro scene is one of the film’s highlights, it’s also tonally misleading. In a sense, MK’s intro feels more like a serious piece of Japanese cinema rather than a hammy video game movie. Nevertheless, the intro manages to set the stage for the flick’s main character, Cole Young, who isn’t native to the original game.
If you’re a Resident Evil fan, then you’ll probably get why Cole is a character in the Mortal Kombat adaptation. Like Alice from the Resident Evil movies, Cole is essentially a plot device designed to give the film a Hollywood framework. While die-hard fans of the arcade probably won’t be too jazzed about Cole’s inclusion, Lewis Tan’s performance as the character is up to snuff.
Speaking of arcade game fans, if you’ve been bracing yourself for some sort of Mortal Kombat tournament within your Mortal Kombat movie, I have bad news for you. While the film features various brutal fights and heaps of martial arts from the get-go, the film lacks the series’ iconic main event. In a way, this makes sense. After all, the Mortal Kombat franchise could be a Marvel-esque saga. Imagine the MCU started with Endgame?
Generally speaking, the narrative events of Mortal Kombat pass by fairly quickly. This means that Cole finds himself bumping into iconic video game characters like Jax and Sonya Blade sooner than you’d think. But, again, Mortal Kombat often feels like it’s setting the stage (or arena) for something. In this case, it’s an attempt to fit in the game’s character roster, consisting of a mix of earth’s defenders and Outworld invaders.
While Mortal Kombat often reminds us that Cole’s main concerns are for his wife and child, there’s plenty of other plot beats within the film. Each character within MK has their own drives, ambitions, no matter how vague they are. Despite this, the film never strays too far into the lives of its on-screen characters. This makes sense, as most viewers will probably watch this film for some spine-ripping action. Regardless, Mortal Kombat does have narrative substance; even it does end up being covered in blood by the time the credits roll.
As mentioned previously, Mortal Kombat has goodies, baddies and everything else in between. For the most part, these characters and their actors all bring something unique to the table, which brings the whole affair together. While Tadanobu Asano’s take on the game’s demi-god Raiden is incredibly textbook, other characters feature some unexpected flare.
Josh Lawson’s version of Kano genuinely improves the character tenfold, transforming him into a weirdly likeable scumbag. There’s also Sisi Stringer’s incredible take on the monstrous Mileena, a character who, for the most part, gets to be a vicious killer in the flick. This contrasts Mileena from the video games, who seems to spend most of her days at the antagonist’s throne wearing a weird bikini.
Unfortunately, just like with the aforementioned Raiden, not every character feels fleshed out in Mortal Kombat. By the time the film gets round to introducing the likes of Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), it feels like they’re sidetracked for other narrative events. There’s also the film’s antagonist, Shang Tsung, who feels somewhat forgettable. That being said, this could be a tactical way to leave room for sequels to the film, which could feature these characters more prominently.
Fights & Fan Service
But, hey, you probably want me to delve into the film’s ferocious fights, right? Well, If you’re looking for fatalities and blood, then you won’t be disappointed. Mortal Kombat manages to live up to the hype, especially when it comes to its R rating. While I won’t spoil anything here, the film goes above and beyond when it comes to its deathmatches. Spinal cords? Check. Lots of blood? Check!
If you’re a fan of classic martial art cinema, then you’ll perhaps find the film’s fight scenes to be of bad taste. However, for those who treasure the video game series, Mortal Kombat provides the ultimate fan service. Of course, the fight we all want to see is between the game’s iconic duo, Scorpion and Sub Zero, who have been out for each other’s blood since the series began. Thankfully, this fight acts as the film’s climax, which makes the wait worthwhile.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Mortal Kombat games, then you’ll probably love this new film adaptation. While the flick struggles to maintain a solid sense of identity at times, it does more than enough to accurately portray its source material while retaining a traditional action film narrative. Hopefully, Simon McQuoid’s take on Mortal Kombat resonates with fans, while proving its might so that it can spark a sequel!
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Mortal Kombat 2021 is available in select cinemas, as well as through online streaming services including Amazon Prime and HBO Max.
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Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros