Note: Slight Spoilers involving what doesn’t happen in the film.
I’m just going to get to the point: video game movies are notoriously known for their laughably horrendous quality. The video game movies that have been great, in my opinion, are 2019’s Pokémon’s Detective Pikachu and 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, with other recent films such as The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019) and Tomb Raider (2018) being decent enough. With these four most recent video game films being decent to great, the outlook on the video game genre was beginning to look up. So, when it was announced that New Line Cinemas was rebooting the film adaptations of the Mortal Kombat franchise (the two previous films from the 90’s being complete garbage—one laughably bad, the other torturous), many fans were very excited. Unfortunately, with only a few redeeming qualities found in its brutality (however scarce it may be), Mortal Kombat (2021) is a misstep for the genre and a return to the video game adaptation trash pile.
Mortal Kombat (2021) follows MMA fighter Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan) as he is thrown into the interdimensional conflict between Earthrealm and Outworld due to his heritage to a ancient fighter of the Shirai Ryu clan, Hanzo Hasashi (played by Hiroyuki Sanada). Cole must join up with fighters Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), and Kung Lao (Max Huang) and train under the god of thunder, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), in order to fight off the fighters of Outworld that have been sent by Emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han) to prevent the ritual fighting tournament, Mortal Kombat.
When talking about a terrible film, it is important to note the good aspects of the film. When the brutality kicks in, the movie shows some semblance of life and exhibits the sense of fun, mind-numbing action that someone who wants to see a Mortal Kombat film is looking for. That’s pretty much the only highlight, but even so, this highlight requires you to sit through over an hour of poorly written plot and dialogue, and horrendous acting. All of this is particularly aggravating as the opening sequence, showing the conflict between Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion and Bi-Han/Sub-Zero (played by Joe Taslim), showed a lot of promise. However, while it has a great tone and plenty of heart in the beginning (both of which get completely discarded), the rest of the film is plagued by a red flag that immediately presented itself: this film has some of the worst action editing ever seen in a big budget, theatrical film. Many, if not most, of the actors in this film have experience in action, stunt work, or martial arts, but first time director, Simon McQuoid, and his editing team don’t let these talents shine with most of the action scenes having so many cuts, that you can’t tell what is going on in the action choreography.
The poor quality, set by the atrocious editing, is only compounded upon by the dialogue and plot of this film. With the exception of the Kano character (whose dialogue was almost always fun), all of the characters in this film are flat with subpar, eye-roll-inducing dialogue. This issue makes you not care for any of the characters and makes the wait for the ultra-violence that you paid for, all the more painful to sit through. The wait for the Mortal Kombat violence is even more unforgivable when you realize that the actual Mortal Kombat tournament doesn’t even occur in the film. A Mortal Kombat film, without actual Mortal Kombat defeats the purpose and makes the entire film feel like a 2-hour wait for a sequel that’s years away if it even happens.
Are the fatalities and brutalities fun to watch? Yes. Is the rest of the movie fun to watch? Only the parts with Josh Lawson’s iteration of Kano. Between the awful editing, writing, and acting, I 100% understand why this was a day-and-date release on HBOMax, because the quality was that of an early 2000s straight-to-DVD film. I honestly feel bad for the director, McQuoid, as he probably could have put together a better film if his first outing was not a big budget adaptation of a big IP. If all you want out of this film is to watch the gore, I sincerely hope you can shut your brain off for the first hour, because then you may actually enjoy yourself—better yet, just watch it on HBOmax and skip to all the fight scenes.
Mortal Kombat (2021) is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude references.
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