Mortal Kombat (2021) Review
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
SINCE bursting onto the scene in 1992 with its premiere video game, Mortal Kombat has remained a household name for almost 30 years due to its focus on engaging gameplay, rich lore and trademark violence. This success led to the spawning of two theatrical films: the well-received Mortal Kombat (1995) and the poorly received Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997). Now the video game phenomenon returns to the big screen in hopes of a cinematic revival, so does the blood-splattering, bone-crunching franchise still have one more flawless victory left in it?
MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is one of few combatants chosen to represent Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat; a tournament held every 10,000 years created by the Elder Gods to determine the fate of all realms. Outworld, a savage realm bent on eliminating all others, is on the precipice of winning 10-straight tournaments which, if successful, would allow them to invade Earthrealm and destroy all life. Cole, with the help of Lieutenant Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Major Jackson Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), must seek out other fighters who bare the same birthmark as him to save Earthrealm from the opposing Outworld forces led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han).
Mortal Kombat is not just my favourite video game franchise, but my favourite franchise across all medians; film and television included. Hopes were high that the story would remain faithful to the original source material. However, as expected, the movie introduces new plot points previously unseen in the franchise. Major inclusions such as dragon birthmarks and specific character relationships are introduced to create a unique experience which, to my surprise, worked for this interpretation of the story, and while I am disappointed fan-favourite characters were underutilised and misrepresented, I can overlook this as I am a firm believer that video game film adaptations don't have to be 100% accurate as there is already something which accurately portrays these stories: the video game itself.
One of the reasons Mortal Kombat rose to prominence back in the mid-90s was because of its violent, over-the-top fatalities. These finishing moves became a major influence on not just the franchise moving forward, but media in general as the game's intense violence was a leading factor behind the creation of ESRB Ratings, and with this film being rated R-18+, it is clear director Simon McQuoid took inspiration from the game's bloody branding.
From heads exploding by way of clap, to bodies being sawed in half, Mortal Kombat offers ample violence for fans of the video game, all of which is enhanced by the excellent fight choreography on display. Majority of the actors come from martial arts backgrounds and each of them do a wonderful job at making each fight sequence feel intense and real, with special mention going to Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim who portray bitter rivals Scorpion and Sub-Zero respectively. Their fighting not only looks impressive, but also injects personality into their characters, with each man continually performing subtle facial and bodily movements to tell the story of a man seeking revenge for the murder of his family and clan.
Everybody remembers the character they played with. People loved Scorpion and his kunai, Liu Kang and his fireballs, but for me, Kano was always my go-to due to his unique move-set and gritty personality, and to my pleasure, he managed to be the standout character in a film filled with other-worldly combatants. Josh Lawson's portrayal of the Australian mercenary was both entertaining and malevolent, never leaning too far into straight-up comedic relief as Lawson carried the character with an aura of confidence while also remaining competent and vindictive. Veteran characters such as Liu Kang, Sonya, Kung Lao, Mileena and Jax are well-implemented, however the same can not be said for the newcomer Cole Young. Tan does a fine job at what he was given, but the character of Cole Young was a bland protagonist that left little impact on the story as a whole, being used as a blank canvas in order to push the story forward, and while his family connections were later divulged, the reveal felt anticlimactic and unnecessary.
Mortal Kombat may not have appropriately represented every combatant from the original games, and it's far from the best written movie, but the film manages to encapsulate everything the 1992 classic stood for: bloody violence and fun fights. Beautiful fight sequences, copious amounts of blood, as well as a star making performance from Australian actor Josh Lawson, makes this 2021 feature the best cinematic representation of the franchise to date, and judging by its critical and commercial success, a sequel soon is to be expected - and will be anticipated by myself.