The only question is … does it succeed?
MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)
It’s commonly said that the words “video game” should never be intertwined with the word “movie” because film studios have yet to make a great one that lends well to the games the films are based on. Mortal Kombat becomes our latest challenger to take on the crown and make the forbidden combination one to root for in the future of cinema. The only question is… does it succeed?
Director Simon McQuoid is clearly a fan of the video games, and his legitimate passion for the costume designs, character development, and fatalities to remain true to the games design is terrific to see. The film is a sequence of events prior to the actual Mortal Kombat tournament taking place, as we see the beings from Outworld invade Earthrealm to bring an end to the tournament once and for all. As you’d assume, Mortal Kombat is reliant on the phenomenal direction when it comes to the main aspect of the video games: the fighting. McQuoid delivers in every regard when it comes to the action. Yes, the battles can become excessive the more they go on, but the direction put forth keeps every new character that enters the scene full of twists and surprises.
Written by Greg Russo and David Callaham (The Expendables), the plot of Mortal Kombat can be separated into two categories, the scenes with unrestricted exposition and the scenes with characters fighting one another - typically to the death. The plot is undeniably overcompensating for the video game’s lacking narrative by delivering one that tries to explain itself after every punch thrown. The brightest spots in the story are the moments when it’s not taking itself too seriously and instead realizing that this is a film based on a hollow video game narrative about 1v1 brawls to the death. While you won’t necessarily be bored by the relentless explanations given, you know the filmmakers are very aware of what they’re doing when one of the leads literally makes a comment about talking less and fighting more.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Mortal Kombat, the video games, have a magnificent roster of characters, and yet this film makes the rash decision to bring on a character unfamiliar to fans of the series - Cole Young (Lewis Tan). This choice feels unnecessary in an attempt to have a character be relatable to the audience by bringing in someone that knows absolutely nothing about the tournament to begin with. Honestly, everything to do with his character, you can just take it or leave it. The only thing that matters is that we have him for the end fight. Taking center stage we have Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), and Kano (Josh Lawson) just to name a few of the fighters. The characters feel like the characters they are meant to be, but in doing so the dialogue commonly is given with a campy delivery that takes you out of the film - some dialogue such as when one character comes out on top and exclaims to himself, “flawless victory” are examples of pure nonsensical fan service. Yet among these cringeworthy moments we have some truly engaging scenes between characters, many of which involve Kano, who is without a doubt the best character in the entire film - he almost feels out of place with how charismatic he is in everything he says and does. If nothing else, you’re here to see some of your fan favorites kick ass and witness Kano make some hilariously inappropriate jokes.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The world of Mortal Kombat is alive and well in McQuoid’s vision. With glimpses of some lesser video game movies such as 2020’s Monster Hunter and 2016’s Warcraft, the visuals stumble at times but find their footing again once the fighting begins. The gore effects are downright gruesome, with several fatalities causing my mouth to be agape in awe. The costumes are videogame accurate with some superb visual enhancements as the characters discover their powers (Jax being one of the best improvements as the film progresses). Liu Kang’s fire looks terrific, Scorpions chain attack is stunning and all of Sub-Zero’s ice powers look unbelievably realistic within the world they reside. However they can’t all be hits as several characters do miss the mark ever so slightly, namely Raiden’s odd glowing eyes and Cole’s “Power Rangers” costume he receives later in the runtime. Even with these slight misses, the visuals work over time to make sure that every fight and every “arena” is a spectacle - bringing what’s worthwhile about the video game to the big screen.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
At times I felt like I was brought into the game. Other times I was surrounded by a Hollywood blockbuster. But the issue isn’t in the scores separately, but the mixing of the two ideals is a fatal mistake for composer Benjamin Wallfisch. The sound design behind the action and fighting set pieces were particularly impressive as they truly sounded exactly as they did in the games; I loved every second of it.
While not a flawless victory for director Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat succeeds enough in its execution that true fans should be enthusiastic to see where this legendary franchise goes from here. I for one am eagerly awaiting a sequel and the involvement of several key characters left out this time around. Nonetheless, Mortal Kombat is a film that certainly tops the charts when it comes to video game adaptations that just want to have a bloody good time.