It was less than a quarter of a century since fans of the first Mortal Kombat movie in 1995 who had high hopes that its sequel would fare well a few years later, would see any progress pertaining to a third installment. By this past April and just a little earlier in several countries around the world, fans finally got their wish with the arrival of a new live-action reboot, following weeks of fan-driven hype over the film’s red-band trailer generating millions of views and becoming the most-viewed red band trailer in history.
It was a moment I relished and reveled as one of success and shared jubilation, with fans who’ve waited years after a two-season webseries by Machinima fell by the wayside when its third season never aired. I shared in the blanketed, blinding excitement of knowing that action cinema greats Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada were gonna play two of the most formidable and iconic characters of the franchise in a story newly crafted to center on an original character, cast to an actor whose buzz has rightfully increased with a cult following after a brief appearance in a Marvel TV series, and a recurring role in one of AMC’s most memorable martial arts action television sagas ever broadcast.
More to the point – and admittedly at that – I engaged the film with much more approval compared to others (including contributors for this website – namely Brandon, Cathy and Matthew) who’ve seen the film and opined differently on its delivery, if only to support the appraisal of what made the film work over its flaws in my perspective, and it just so happens that in the months since, while those involved are more than allowed to celebrate this movie and its release as a win, that there’s a larger stake when it comes to fan craze over movies like these. It has a lot to do with complacency, and the willingness to absolve filmmakers of the very critiques that are pertinent to measuring just how good or bad they do when executing the results of their exclusive behind-the-scenes creative process.
I still stand by the plusses I mentioned in my Mortal Kombat review and what made the movie work, and I’m more than willing to see through what can be brought to the table for sequel prospects. However, between Sonya’s underhanded “she has to earn her powers” sub-arc, to the lack of consistency between producers’ softball statements on the action, fight choreography and editing compared to the cut-infested fight scenes and lack of the kind of cinematic martial arts action that embodies a lot of what makes these kinds of films so enjoyable (specifically dating back to the 1995 film), and the unimpressive and saturating CG display of famed Kombat villain Goro, I can earnestly see why it is that filmmakers may tend to fall into the trap of repeating the very mistakes that other studios and producers have worked to rectify in their movies (i.e. Atomic Blonde, Deadpool, John Wick, etc.).
When Jason Bourne came out in 2016, I had some of the highest hopes that Paul Greengrass’s work on that film would signal a continuation of this trend among filmmakers. Instead, it made me want to vomit. It turned out to be the most unwatchable installment of the franchise, so much so that when I finally watched it at home after its run in theaters, it took me multiple viewings. The biggest issue for me right then was the action, and seeing how it was created at a time when moviegoers are throwing money at the likes of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, it didn’t sit well with me that this was what we got.
Sadly, that’s the case I’m inclined to bring to the light with Simon McQuoid’s feature directing debut, which brought in over $83 million dollars worldwide at the tail end of a global pandemic that allowed some theaters to open back despite recurring upticks in some areas, in addition to the film’s at-home viewing numbers via HBO Max in the states. All well deserved in good fortune to the cast and crew for its hard work, sure, and no less including the immese relief of finally getting to see a film brought back to live-action fruition barring any negative reactions to the trailer and the film that were ultimately drowned out by the cheers and congrats among the stars’ Twitter and Instagram followers and fan-crazed YouTubers who couldn’t shut thee fuck up for weeks about the inklings of new footage in the short TV promos that leaked online (calling them trailers…which I think is weird but…that’s just me).
No hate here though – I would sit sucking through my teeth at the displeasure of folks who saw the trailer and didn’t like it. I was your housecat wiggling my tail while judging you from the window sill, too upset to even stare at the birds outside. I loved the trailer, and as such, I still do. It sold me, as any studio in charge of selling a movie to the masses hoped it would. And for that matter, Mortal Kombat deserved some better, much more consistent and concrete ideas in its packaging than it got. It should be considered a banana-in-the-tailpipe moment for me, and for that matter, anyone who’s ever blindly loved a film so much that they would even mildly mention or obfuscate the required points of critique for a movie that costed $55 million dollars to make and had some of the highest expectations for a film based on the kind of IP that Mortal Kombat is.
It’s not the first time I’ve watered down my opinions or given a less-than-stellar film an other passing review, and this is coming from someone who’s spoken favorably about Michael Bay’s work, even as other critics had their reasons for side-eyeing him the way they did. Don’t get me wrong, however – none of this is to say that Mortal Kombat is a bad movie. It isn’t. With that on the table though, and some folks calling it “the best video game adaptation ever made”, all I’m saying is I beg to differ. Mortal Kombat has all the potential to be a prospective, inaugural bookmark to a larger universe as posited time and again in tweets and interviews by the film’s screenwriter, Greg Russo, only now its future as such may depend on what McQuoid, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line, and all those involved may have in mind for a sequel.
That said, I also don’t mind that this first effort was only a preceding chapter to a bigger franchise in which the tournament gets finally introduced in a hopeful second film that remains yet to be announced. This time however, the stakes a lot greater. It’s important that those involved in that film’s development take the initiative, take the hits from critics who have their reasons for disliking the film, and apply what they know in order to do better. Because at the end of the day, we want these movies to succeed, but that can only happen if filmmakers cancel out the appraisal of capsule reviews and blind fan output, and listen to critics with useful ideas and opinions. After all, filmmakers are not…well… flawless.
Mortal Kombat is now available on disc and digital wherever movies are sold.