Consider me mildly impressed.
I just saw the Mortal Kombat movie in the theater, and as a casual viewer and MK noob, I can’t say I was either over- or underwhelmed. Remember, the key words here are “casual viewer.”
My basic knowledge of Mortal Kombat goes back to warm September nights at a midwestern university in 1993, when over-caffeinated boys would scream “Mortal Kombat!” across the dormitory quad at each other. As a 21-year-old girl trying to get a date, I found it strange and endearing. I managed to play the game (don’t even ask me which video game system) a handful of times, but as someone who peaked with Frogger and Pitfall on the Atari 2600, this kind of game and system weren’t my cup of tea.
With my recent side gig of “amateur movie reviewer,” I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the film so many of my friends — reviewers and otherwise — were excited to see. We even rented a theater for a small group of 16, in order to maintain safety protocols in Age of Covid.
The film was a mixed-bag for me. It opens with the story of a 17th century Japanese ninja clan war. Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) tries to kill Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family in order to eliminate their family line. Bi-Han is only somewhat successful, as Hanzo kills the other assassins — but loses his wife and son before succumbing himself to Bi-Han’s cruelty. The sole survivor is an infant daughter, hidden away from Bi-Han and rescued by Lord Raiden, the God of Thunder (Tadanobu Asano).
Fast forward to modern times, and we meet Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former champion of mixed-martial arts who is trying to regain some of his former glory — and help make a living for his wife Allison (Laura Brent) and daughter Emily (Matilda Kimber). After a spectacular failure of a fight, Cole and his family find themselves running from a mysterious stranger with the powers of ice. Fortunately, they are rescued by Jackson “Jax” Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), who explains that Cole’s dragon “birthmark” is an ancient mark for defenders of Earth (or “Earthrealm” in the language of the prophecies) against the evil warriors of another realm — the Outworld. After revealing his own mark (obtained after killing another person who has it), Jax sends Cole and his family to safety while he battles the ice-weider — Sub-Zero, who is nonother than Bi-Han himself — but falls victim to Sub-Zero’s abilities. It was never a fair fight. Cole finds Jax’s partner, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) in Gary, Indiana, and with the help of constant one-liner and unwilling guide Kano (Josh Lawson), who also has an ill-gained dragon mark, they travel to find a storied training facility to prepare for impending battle. The would-be warriors have to find their “arcana,” or special ability conferred by the dragon mark — not as easy a task as either Cole or Kano hope.
Earthrealm warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) help to train Cole and Kano under the watchful eye of Lord Raiden, who is duly unimpressed with either of the new recruits. Kano finally realizes his arcana, but Cole decides to leave the temple, feeling like a failure — again. But his luck changes and his arcana appears once he is forced to dig deep within himself to save his family from Outworld assassins.
The Earthrealm champions, including newly arcana-ed Jax and Sonya, reunite to take on the Outworld baddies, and battles ensue and blood flows…
Oh boy, does it flow. There were some clearly graphic scenes of death, dismemberment, and disemboweling that could be uncomfortable for sensitive viewers (Ahem. Me.). But I did remember that one of the shticks of the video game was the fights to the gory death between characters. However, my memories of early 90s video game graphics paled in comparison to the very effective and well-executed (pun intended) special effects of the 2021 film. The film also has good costuming and casting. The dialogue was hit-or-miss; Kano had some of the best lines in the entire movie, and without that humor, the characters would have been much less sympathetic as a whole. Some of the dramatic dialogue dragged in comparison to the quirky quips, but it didn’t ruin the film.
Film Combat Syndicate offers several additional great reviews and analyses of the Mortal Kombat movie by more knowledgeable writers than me, so maybe go look there, too.
Now, for people who played the game and all its ensuing iterations, or for those who watched the earlier movies, this film may have had more emotional impact and personal meaning. For me, it just wasn’t there.
But I do feel a slight urge to open the windows and yell “Mortal Kombat!” to see if anyone answers…
Mortal Kombat is now playing in theaters and IMAX, as well as on HBO Max in the U.S. for a limited time.