Spoilers call dibs on the working controller.
You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to see this movie. However, you at least should be somewhat familiar with the characters, because even a little hint of recognition makes this film a lot more enjoyable. The movie can is a bit all over the place but there’s a couple of really well done scenes that might make or break the film for you. This review will be spoiling a lot so you’ve been warned. Fans that have grown up with these characters will definitely be watching it, and they should be entertained. It’s been made explicitly for them.
Mortal Kombat (2021) was directed by Simon McQuold based on the screenplay by Greg Russon and Dave Callaham. The film starts in 17th-century Japan. Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), leader of the Shirai Ryu clan, is attacked in his home by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) and his Lin Kuei warriors. You immediately catch on who Bi-Han and Hanzo will eventually become. Bi-Han takes out Hanzo’s family and finally Hanzo himself. We get to see his body burning as he exhales his last breath. After the carnage, the God of Thunder, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), appears, finds Hanzo’s daughter hidden under the floorboards and takes her to safety.
It’s one kickass way to begin the film, and I had zero complaints until then. We’ve just met Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Raiden and all before the title credits show up. We’re ready and willing and now… Well, we meet Cole Young (Lewis Tan) who is a failed MMA fighter, having lost match after match. He has a wife and daughter. He’s very much a very bland character. I mean, no disrespect to Lewis Tan. I’m glad they at least casted someone of Asian descent but his character is a bit dull. The character was created for the movie, he’s not from the game.
Cole and his family are attacked by Sub-Zero, sent by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), Lord of Outworld to kill all the champions of Earthrealm before a legendary tournament for the fate of our world. Cole and his family will be saved by Jackson “Jax” Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), who pays a big prize by having his arms frozen off. Following Jax’s indications, Cole meets Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who explains how the champions of Earthrealm must do battle with the champions of Outworld in a tournament known as Mortal Kombat. The invitation is a birthmark in the shape of a dragon. Cole has it, Jax has it and Sonya doesn’t. This feels a little unbalanced but then the movie reveals you can earn it.
The dragon mark can also be obtained if you managed to kill the bearer in combat. Sonya knows this because she was tracking another champion who bore this mark and was killed by a mercenary named Kano (Josh Lawson), now Sonya’s prisoner. Kano is a much needed breath of fresh air. Josh Lawson really steals the scenes he’s in, playing up the scumbag persona and nailing his delivery. He’s an asshole and he’s entertaining, which is what this movie really needs at this point so it’s fun to see him break the monotonous dialog of everyone else.
Eventually the heroes will end up in Raiden’s temple to train themselves. They must awaken their “arcana” which will grant them special powers. To that effect, they must learn from Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). I felt they could have done more with these two. Liu Kang is ok, although a little too tame. Kung Lao was more kickass. After the training scenes he only gets into one big battle, although he does get to use the bloodiest finishing move of them all. Lord Raiden is there as well but we won’t get to see him fight. Shang Tsung basically talks. We do get to see him to grab one soul. That’s it.
Goro appears during a scene in which Cole has gone to see his family. The whole family angle is exploited just to give Cole some depth, but I don’t think it really works. What’s worse is that Goro here only appears as a monster that Cole ends up fighting and killing. Cole’s arcana manifests into some sort of golden body armor and a pair of tonfa. Meanwhile, the heroes at the temple have managed to defeat their enemies. Liu Kang at least gets a cool finishing move while Jax, who was fitted with some skinny prosthetic arms, sees them turn into robotic arms to crush his opponent.
Yes, I’ve intentionally neglected to mention who kills who except for Goro’s death by Cole because that’s just disappointing as hell. Fans might also be disappointed of other characters used as one-note thugs such as Nitara, Mileena, Kabal and Reiko. Sub-Zero opts for repeating history kidnapping Cole’s wife and daughter and freezing them. Cole battles him but he’s out of his league until Sub-Zero’s attack is stopped by Scorpion, back from the grave.
To be honest, it would have made more sense to me that all the characters we already know had the mark, including Sonya. Cole should’ve been the one to win his mark as the “new” character. Yes, basically this is everyone’s origin but since we already know the rest of the characters and Cole is the audience surrogate going on his own hero’s journey, should have been the unworthy newcomer with something to prove. Yes, I’m nitpicking, but I was still entertained.
Now I know this is a big spoiler, but if the movie doesn’t give you Sub-Zero and Scorpion facing each other then it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat and if this is the reason why you might want to see it. This is really the battle that we’ve been waiting for, with Sub-Zero and Scorpion trading blows and special moves while Cole also jumps into the action. Now, all combatants are very skilled, but I obviously would’ve preferred to see a movie centered around Sub-Zero and Scorpion all the way through, rather than sparingly. That being said, this is a great battle. The movie teases this possibility but keeps giving you other encounters ranging from good to mediocre. This one is the one you want.
Highly recommended for fans of the game with reservations. Definitely more fun with an audience but it does drag for some scenes until the big battles begin. You will also notice the quick cuts during combat scenes, completely unnecessary for actual martial artists but necessary if you need to cut from the actor to the stuntman and back again. Some of the mythos is there, with some great character appearances while others only appear briefly. Still, if you ever played any of the games or wanted to see a remake of the film from 1995, this one will have a lot more value for you. For fans, of course, it is required viewing.
That will do for now.