Mortal Kombat film review (2021)

The rushed narrative, cheesy dialogue, and the lack of proper character development for some characters doesn’t really do it any favors. But, the action and fight scenes are absolutely brutal and gory, just how Mortal Kombat should be.

As a fan of the video game series and even of the 1995 movie in all its bizarreness, I was very much looking forward to this new adaptation. For some time now, I feel video game film adaptations have been on the upswing, considering most have been absolute trash. But, as mentioned, they’re getting better, and the future is looking bright for these video game properties with not only other films in the works, but TV shows as well, such as The Last of Us, Halo, and Fallout shows currently in development. Speaking more on this new Mortal Kombat though, after watching it, I can say I enjoyed it for the most part, even if it’s largely flawed in some areas. However, I did keep my expectations in check before my viewing. Once again, I liked it.

Mortal Kombat mostly centers on MMA fighter Cole Young, who finds out more about the dragon marking on his body and how it’s tied to a tournament with beings from the Earthrealm and even other worlds. After locating Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple, he begins to train with other fighters, including Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Kano (Josh Lawson) in order to fend off Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and others, whose plans are to take over the Earthrealm and the rest of the universe.

What I really enjoyed was how the movie gets right to it in terms of the action. I’m sure most have seen it by now, but the first seven minutes of the film were released prior to the movie officially launching. The fight scene between Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) was a fantastic way to get you hooked into what will transpire during the rest of the movie. To put it simply, I was pretty much invested just on the opening sequence alone. Sadly though, I wish I would’ve felt the same way about the rest of the movie as I did about the opening sequence.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the movie, and there were some scenes that came close to delivering the same feeling the first seven minutes did. But, most of what I feared about what this movie will do unfortunately happened. It isn’t terrible and these situations don’t completely ruin the experience. But, seeing how other action films have handled plots and characters properly while still including phenomenal fighting scenes, you can Mortal Kombat doesn’t exactly blend everything together as good as you would hope.

I don’t mean to be picky, but there are a variety of these characters who don’t really have a proper introduction and their backstories aren’t fleshed out in great detail. I’m sure it isn’t an easy task, of course, since there are many characters involved in this movie and they’re all important in their own way. The only ones who really have an interesting backstory are Cole Young (Lewis Tan) and Bi-Han. Even then, Bi-Han’s history isn’t really touched on. In fact, there isn’t a logical explanation as to why he kills Hanzo in the first place. Yes, the Lin Kuei and Shirai Ryu are rival clans, so I guess that should be enough reason, but that sequence, although fantastic, felt a bit rushed in that aspect. The continuing conflict with Hanzo once he is Scorpion and Bi-Han is already Sub-Zero is pretty great too. I wish we got more of Scorpion, though. It’s no secret he’s the most popular character in Mortal Kombat.

I didn’t expect to like Young as a character, but he definitely grew on me. The way he finds his arcana, which is when a fighter with the dragon symbol imprinted on their body finally realizes and unleashes their potential, which unlocks unique and powerful abilities, was pretty epic. Jax’s (Mehcad Brooks) moment where his arcana is revealed was also a cool scene. As far as everyone else and finding what unlocks their arcana, it didn’t really do it for me.

As far as everyone else, I didn’t really care for any other characters except Liu Kang, but that may be more personal bias since he’s probably my favorite fighter from the video game series. Kano was pretty annoying, if I’m being honest. I always saw Kano as a brute and savage individual, not some troll and obnoxious person. That was always Johnny Cage’s role, even if he is a good guy. Don’t get me wrong, Lawson did an awesome job as Kano, but he definitely delivers the annoying vibes. I guess you can say he’s the heart of the film in some ways though. He’s involved in many scenes with a number of different characters. Some will love him, sure, but I don’t think I did.

Raiden’s role felt incredibly diminished. This is evidently the starting point and it sets up future sequels, so these other characters will have their moments to shine in those movies. However, Raiden is incredibly important. It’s teased how much of an influence he has on everything, but you never really feel it at times. Let’s hope that changes in the future. Shang Tsung didn’t seem intimidating at all either. He’s always been this menacing and outright scary villain, but other than one scene, I never felt that coming from him.

The story has its moments, but it was a bit messy and rushed at times. It is trying to tell multiple stories about different characters at once, so it’s bound to get lost in the grander scheme of everything. But, I think it could’ve done a bit better. I’ve seen worse, so that’s obviously positive. Overall, the movie does a solid job with the narrative it’s trying to tell.

The best part, and the one everyone came to see, is the blood-filled, gut-spilling action scenes. If there’s one thing the filmmakers got right and borderline perfect, it’s that. All the fight scenes were incredibly gory and absolutely brutal. This is what I loved the most. I also feel they got the characters in right in terms of how they fight. It was like they were ripped out of the games. Their abilities, their fighting styles, and even the witty one-liners they have were extremely faithful to the source material. I could’ve done without some of the corny dialogue, sure, but it’s a staple of the franchise after all, so it didn’t bother me all too much. If you’re hoping for good action, you don’t have to worry. It’s there and it’s amazing. Some fights are definitely better than others, of course, and some of the fatalities play out a bit better, but the majority of it is so fun to watch.

Mortal Kombat is a good foundation for what’s to come. I’m hoping future sequels do a better job with their stories. I’m also very excited to see other fan favorite characters make an appearance in the future, with one being teased already, while also seeing some of the others return in some way, shape, or form. Yes, people die, but did you expect anything else from a Mortal Kombat movie? I’m looking forward to seeing more, and as stated, I hope improvements are made aside from the action in order to deliver an overall better movie everyone can enjoy, not just diehard fans of the series. It’s fun, enjoyable, and pleasing to action aficionados, but it’s no flawless victory.

Score: C+

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