Mortal Kombat

Directed By Simon McQuoid

Starring – Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson

The Plot – MMA fighter Cole Young (Tan) seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and adult language throughout, and some crude references

Mortal Kombat (2021) – Official Red Band Trailer – YouTube

POSITIVES

– Riveting action. Let’s be honest, the main reason anyone sees these films is for buffet of brutality that stands as a result of some bone-crunching action sequences, and thanks to the desired R-rating, what no previous Mortal Kombat film has attained, this film’s devastation manages to be felt resoundingly. It starts with the invasive sound design, complete with near perfect editing and mixing that audibly illustrates the brunt force and speed in every single delivery. Add to that the endless buckets of blood, which spring forth a three-dimensional quality to our violent imagery, and you have a series of sequences that aren’t just entertaining from an action movie perspective, but also ones that for the first time feel seamlessly faithful to the revolutionary attitude in the series of games that always tried to top its predecessor, evolving with a ruthless aggression and unapologetic captivation that equally persists throughout this cinematic adaptation.

– Sturdy threads. As to where the ambitious 95 million dollars here isn’t always spent with the most exceptional of results, one element to production that does visually stimulate the believability of these characters is the attention to detail in costumes that maintain the familiarity of the classic designs with a contemporary approach that springs forth imagination. The colorful approaches are a welcome diversion from an overall presentation that left more to be desired, breathing vibrancy to the intense action sequences that made it all the easier to distinguish what was being detected because of the colors that are unique to any particular character. Without question, my favorite has to be the three piece ensemble from Kung Lao, whose stark, stunning transfer from that games brings to life the fantastical elements of the design, all the while paying homage to the samurai within him that he quite literally wears as a badge of honor to his fallen ancestors. Some liberties are taken with certain characters, but every design felt earnest in enhancing the indulgence of the character, all the while paying homage to the roots of its origins that brings imagination full circle with a production value that spared no expense at capturing the liknesses of these legendary warriors.

– Backstory. This film could’ve easily rested on the laurels of a series of thrilling action sequences and innovative set pieces, but instead tries to tell a story with its collection of characters that allowed us to see them in ways no other cinematic adaptation has even remotely attained to this point. In this regard, this version of “Mortal Kombat” feels most like the games, especially the personal history of Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s characters, which much of the film originates from. Not everything is completely faithful with any one particular game, but instead it feels like certain elements and story beats were plucked from certain installments, and better used to illustrate how these characters could be linked together during initial set-ups, despite various world’s and time periods away from one another. It provides a bigger picture outside of the tournament that proves these engagements feel anything but spontaneous, and gave the screenplay, as riddled in cliches as it was, a layer of complimentary depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting.

– Endless Easter Eggs. Like any video game adaptation, this one also goes overdrive on the familiarity of things pertaining to the lore and fantasy of the world displayed in the games, but works charmingly to where they’re dispersed throughout. This allowed the film to set-up future conflicts down the line with the possibility of additional films, but simultaneously remained firmly focused to the progression of this narrative with no shortage of permanency to the characters who fall victim to their opposition. Some of the quotes for the game being forced in the dialogue do feel a bit corny and dated at times, but they’re used in a way that breeds emotional resonance to the character who disperses them, all the while tickling the bone of nostalgia within us that undoubtedly teleports us to a simpler time when a controller and a bracket of psychotics was our life’s greatest conquest.

– Evolving cinematography. Being most familiar with cinematographer Germain McMicking from his work on season three of HBO’s True Detective series, I knew what to expect from the versatility in angles and movements that would conjure urgency and intensity to the integrity of these action sequences, but even he has topped himself with the clarity of cohesiveness despite the speed of what is pertained. Most lovingly, I love Germain’s revolving long take shots, moving us in and around a physical conflict with the kind of rampant velocity resonating in the movements of the characters, all the while sacrificing absolutely nothing with what we the audience can colorfully interpret. McMicking gets just close enough to transfer the devastation from the characters on screen to the audience off-screen, but not invasive enough to obscure the chemistry in choreography from a cast leaving everything in the scope of his complex vision.

– The performances. To the casting director’s credit, a majority of the actors and actresses are relative unknowns to mainstream audiences. I feel this not only limits the distraction of seeing familiar faces emoting these characters, but also allows us to see them as one thing only, especially considering we know very little from them outside of this film. Josh Lawson’s Kano is easily the stand out personality of the film for me, radiating a series of seedy ideals and endless charisma to a film that is unfortunately missing Johnny Cage for such a purpose. Like Sonya Blade who holds him prisoner, there’s an uncertainty to Kano that makes him a combustible element to anyone he comes into contact with, illustrating an internal struggle from within that we don’t know whether to laugh or carry deep concern with. In addition to him, Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero captures an intentionally emotional disconnect to heart and humanity with a raw intensity that is every bit unapologetic to the lives he ruins with his display of devastation along the way, and casts such an immense shadow that I wish preserved him as the main antagonist of the film. More on that later.

NEGATIVES

– Computer-generated fluff. Where the production falters a bit for me is in the obvious rendering of special effects that at times feel sprung from a child with his PC mouse on Microsoft paint. In that regard, it’s the splattering of blood, that while nice to see with an R-rated canvas to work against, does feel a bit too forced and desperate in the context of the scene it often accommodates. In addition to this, Sub-Zero’s freeze effect looks visually stunning in the way it moves across physical properties, but my problem is in the lack of emphasis from what’s going on underneath that doesn’t exactly signify that freezing is taking shape. Such an example pertains to a water bottle in frame being frozen, and the water inside still remains a liquid while the bottle outside of it becomes engulfed in a frozen solid. Details like those took me out of the finished product within a series of ambitious effects, and makes me wish that for 95 million dollars, they would’ve spent a little more time casting a naturalization to the humans they are sprouted from.

– Strained eyes. One element of production that couldn’t escape its 90’s captivity is the straining presentation for the production that quite often caused me discontent in my visual interpretation for the film. The main problem stems from the horrendous lighting and flat color correction for the movie’s visual pallet that forces the idea of the darkness that overwhelms this world quite literally, to a fault where it often obscures what I was trying to focus on at any given time. This was a popular cliche in 90’s action films because it tried to convey a mood long before an audience could immerse themselves in the world or characters, but here feels only relevant to shoulder some of the obviousness in faulty special effects that I previously mentioned, and makes so much of the first and third acts in particular a chore to get through because someone in the Outworld decided not to pay the electric bill when the end of the month hit.

– Characterization imbalance. For my money, this film could’ve honestly been a film purely about Scorpion and Sub-Zero, and I would’ve been fine with it. What further conveys this opinion is a series of 10-20 characters, most of which who never receive a single solitary scene of exposition, and all of which convolute the original direction of the opening scene, which I felt took this franchise in freshly innovative directions. Part of the problem pertains to the newly-created character, Cole, who is every bit uninteresting as he is vanilla with the kind of obviousness he delivers in one-dimensional, one-intentional dialogue of the worst kind. At no point in the film is he the most interesting character in any scene, especially once the supernatural characters of the Outworld pop up to show you the kind of film you could be getting. Speaking of them, the antagonists outside of Sub-Zero are virtually non-existent for a majority of this film. Sure, there’s a couple scenes with Shang Tsung, but he’s just a plot device to further advance the direction of the protagonists, and never comes across as a real person with motives or inspirations. It only gets worse from there, as we get a one-off exposition dump scene with five of Tsung’s co-antagonists springing out of nowhere more than halfway through the movie. They’re given the bare minimum of introductions, and unless you’re a hardcore fan of the games, good luck figuring out what about them makes them vicious adversaries to their protagonist opposition.

– Stunted climax. Considering the tournament didn’t materialize with thirty minutes left of the film, I knew something was terribly wrong with the script, and my fears were realized with a third act that rushes through five fights and one return with a resolution that essentially didn’t move the progress of the narrative from where it started with the movie’s first scene. I won’t spoil anything that happens, but the tournament here essentially means nothing with what we’re eventually left with. This is one element to this film that is far inferior with the 95 original, a film that can resolve the conflict in that film (The tournament), as well as set things up for a sequel. This one instead feels more interested with the latter, a concept that undercuts the tension and unpredictability of the plethora of fights with a pacing that feels like the “Previously on Mortal Kombat” intro of a television show summary. Considering the entirety of the film was leading to this all important final conflict, it feels like such an afterthought when the smoke clears, and two worlds hang in the balance none the more closer to resolution.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

5 thoughts on “Mortal Kombat

  1. I was hoping for a slightly better rating, but I completely understand your reasons. I will still see this one, Thank you for the review, I would not have minded a Subzero vs Scorpion movie either.

  2. only a c? That’s disappointing, but I can’t say its surprising. The MK franchise,imo, is more suited to a lengthy high-budget TV series, rather than a film run. I’ll still see it, but for my money MK: Legacies, the web-series, is the best live-action rendition of the game-story thus far.

  3. Kano stole the show for me. I sat on the edge of my seat waiting and waiting….and waiting for what was a mildly mediocre ending. I wanted so much more from this film. Though the film itself isnt terrible im just a little disappointed.

  4. I was very excited to read your review and I’m glad to see that we share many of the same positives and negatives even though I enjoyed this a bit more. I totally agree that the action is the highlight of the film which it arguably should be. The R rating is welcomed and relentlessly utilized which I definitely appreciate. I also thought that film did a decent job fleshing out at some least some of the characters which I didn’t expect. I’m also glad I’m not the only one that notice the effort in the cinematography. While I disagree with the CGI as I personally thought it was well implemented, I wholeheartedly agree that some of the characters get the short end of the stick which fans will not be happy about. I also thought that the story was almost nonexistent which wouldn’t be a problem if it felt like there were actual stakes which I never quite felt. Still, I had a great time and sounds like did at least somewhat. If they make a sequel, hopefully they iron out the flaws. Excellent job!

  5. I am not a gamer so no clue about any of it. I was able to be entertained and that’s what I wanted. I especially like going back to the review after watching the movie. It’s interesting actually putting your review into real understanding.

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