'Mortal Kombat' (2021) Review: Press X to Skip
As a kid, I had only one view of Mortal Kombat. That it was a hyper violent game that would certainly corrupt me and possibly take away my soul. This of course was not the case, as I remain uncorrupted and soulful. The second and more accurate view, is that it’s the most fun fighting game there is. A tournament of fighters who engage in a deadly battle for supremacy, and the fate of the human race. Those fighters include cyborgs, several ninjas, four armed men, women with jagged teeth, a man with a razor sharp Captain America shield as a hat, and, my personal favourite, an acid spitting lizard with a world renowned disappearing act.
Believe it or not, that barely scratches the surface of what the world of ‘Mortal Kombat’ has to offer. It’s a vast world of monsters, magic, and mayhem. Which is why it should come as no surprise that, given it’s low budget, the runtime of under 2 hours, and its first time director, the 2021 Mortal Kombat film can be aptly described as lacking.
At the outset, Mortal Kombat is a movie that’s doing everything right. It opens with grit and conviction, establishing its tone and its penchant for supernatural visuals. A young family is slaughtered at the hands of an ice wielding killer, and it carries all the weight a home invasion should. It’s tense and the film, at this point, has done nothing to invite ridicule. It takes the story and characters as seriously as it can given the fanciful world it’s in. It’s only when Mortal Kombat takes steps to reveal that world that things start to fall apart.
Most of the film is revealed to the audience through the eyes of Lewis Tan’s Cole Young, a name I’ve had to research countless times, despite his character being central to the film’s plot, and repeated constantly. To be frank, his unmemorable moniker is a microcosm of everything wrong with his inclusion in the movie. Cookie cutter doesn’t quite do it justice, because at least with a cut out cookie, you can embrace comfort in how familiar it is. Here, the character is as bland as he can be, with a muddled motivation and a bad head on his shoulders. He’s relatable, sure, but his arc is as dull as they come. The movie gets props for putting an asian actor front and centre in a blockbuster action film such as this one, but as with all efforts of representation, is it too much to ask for the work to be done right?
I know what you’re thinking. Why am I looking for character development in my Mortal Kombat movie? It’s a fair question, and one I wholeheartedly agree with, but the inclusion and attention given to Cole is so egregiously mundane since it takes away from the characters that you actually want to see. You’ve got Kano, Jax, Liu Kang, Sonya, Mileena, Kabal, Shang Tsung, Raiden, Kung Lao, Reptile, Goro. The film is juggling a lot of characters in a truncated runtime. As expected, not each of the fighters are winners, and range from spot on incarnations, to cheap imitations.
On one end of the spectrum, you have characters like Actor’s name Kano, who feels like he stepped out of a pixel playground, and onto the big screen, with a flawless transition. Others, like Ludi Lin’s Liu Kang, feel like they have the look right but don’t have the endearing qualities of the characters. Ultimately the cast is a mixed bag but there’s enough to see the effort behind their construction.
Naturally, good or bad, you want to see these characters destroy each other. Mortal Kombat is no stranger to vicious destruction, and the movie is no different. There’s blood, guts, and sharp objects in almost every fight scene, and while it might not make sense why the fight occurs, it’s still a rewarding experience. Still, as satisfying as it is to see characters using their iconic moves in live action, there’s a level of disappointment felt throughout the movie.
In the last decade, the skill level that’s been displayed in martial arts on film is undeniable. Franchises like The Raid and John Wick, and Upgrade, have shown what’s possible with hand to hand combat for relatively cheap films. Mortal Kombat is a movie that’s predicated on violent conflict resolution, but can’t come close to the worst fight scenes in any John Wick movie.
At least the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. The worst thing you can do with a video game movie, especially a Mortal Kombat film, is get bogged down in practical reality. Mortal Kombat is comfortable with itself and doesn’t undercut its story, but it knows how to be playful as well. Whether that’s Kano exclaiming excitedly when Liu Kang hurls a fireball at him, or the way in which Jax’s blood vessels pop as a chill runs up his arm. The movie has a high stakes story to tell, but it’s not against having some fun along the way either. Those moments of levity and creativity are a blessing since the film has some serious pacing issues. You may find yourself urging to press the skip button in between battles.
I suspect you’ve been hurt before, so I’ll level with you. You want to know if the new Mortal Kombat is worth your time? The answer is, probably not. Watching it on your own will likely lead to feelings of resentment for the hour and change you wasted, but with a friend or a group, you can have fun with its shortcomings. If you can’t get your team of fighters together, you might as well skip it.
Rating: Catch It On Cable