Flowing down the Stream
“Mortal Kombat” (2021) Review – A Fatality in Writing
Oh Mortal Kombat (2021) how much I hate thee. Let me count the ways (till the heat death of the universe and beyond). Or to put it another way, it’s one of those movies that makes me long for the true cinema of the Fast and the Furious movies.
To it’s credit though (and it pains me to even give it that), the movie starts out semi-promisingly. As an engaging opening flashback in Japan being the one true standout of the film that establishes the main rivalry of the film (Scorpion vs Subzero), and has an admittedly decent (and appropriately gory) fight choreography.
But from then on the only impressive kill it can manage is your engagement. As soon as the main character Cole Young (Lewis Tan) enters the story, any sense of logic or narrative momentum is dragged all to hell. While the rest of the cast can rely on the iconic status of their video game counterparts, Cole doesn’t have that luxury. All he has is a paint-by-numbers family man down on his luck backstory, with a dash of the dry “chosen one” syndrome all barely held together by his obligatory shirtless eye candy scenes. But, all his narrative shortcomings could be forgiven if he wasn’t so bloody boring to watch. Somehow in a cast that in its OG source material could be mistaken for a low-budget fight porn, he manages to be the most one-dimensional.
However, the rest of the cast only fares marginally better. Because while the hardcore Mortal Kombat fans will get a kick out of their mains duking it out on the big screen the average movie-viewer won’t get nearly as much mileage out of them. At best, you’ll be mildly amused by the pixel heavy finishing moves. At worst, the greatest pain you’ll see is the outdated script and tired character archetypes.
This is no better seen than in the films best character (by default) Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). While she has far more agency and input to the plot than Cole ever does, she’s still saddled with the tired old troupe that the only female good guy has to prove she’s worthy enough to fight alongside the boys.
I’d bring up the rest of the cast but for the life of me I can’t remember them. They basically amount to interchangeable punching bags and one good soul sucking courtesy of Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Although the less said about the problematic and infuriating Kano (Josh Lawson) the better.
Speaking on the plot, such as it is, to call it a frozen hell is an understatement. It is utterly devoid of life and somehow manages to be more patronizing than your average Dora the Explorer episode. Almost all of the dialogue is ham fisted exposition trying to explain why the murder Olympics is going to save the world. And when it’s not, it tries to give the most basic motivations as to why they’re fighting, and still fails to make it feel or look compelling.
Cole’s entire “arc” in the film can be summed up as constantly get knocked down, only to give up unless his family is in danger (which you can set your watch too). Worse yet he still learns absolutely nothing. By the time the final battle rolls around he quite literally tries to bring his frozen family back to life by punching them. PUNCHING THEM.
I’d love to give this film the benefit of the doubt and say it’ll make fine drinking game material, and that inebriated is the intended viewing experience, but I can’t. Half a drink in with a friend and we had more fun ripping it apart than any of its laughable fatalities.
As someone who’s gone a couple rounds with friends in the games, I get the temptation to turn your brain off and just enjoy the bloodshed, but that shouldn’t cut it anymore. When the best video game adaptation is the so-so Sonic the Hedgehog movie, we gamers should push for a higher calibre of storytelling.
When games like the Last of Us and Ghost of Tsushima can deliver narrative works of art that stand toe-to-toe with Kubrick or Kurosawa, Hollywood has no excuse not to at least exert more effort than a cheesy after-school special into translating these games to the big or small screen.
As it stands now Mortal Kombat (2021) is just the latest in a long line of mediocre live action adaptations of the franchise. So if you wanted to watch crappy kills with a plot that can be summed up in a text boxm I’d just play one of the earlier games. At least it was trying then.
Mortal Kombat (2021) is now available on PVOD streaming platforms in Canada.
About the Author
Just another island boy getting lost in the city. Frequent surfer of the Interwebs and with my fair share of opinions on what's making waves in popular culture these days. (P.S. Can't really surf but I sure can swim)