Movie Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

The directorial debut from Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat is a 2021 supernatural action film based on the video game series of the same name. Former martial arts champion Cole Young (Lewis Tan) finds himself being pursued by the assassin Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), but is aided by special forces soldiers Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Cole soon learns he is destined to join a mystical tournament for the fate of the Earth, and under the guidance of an elder God, Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), team with the mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), monk Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and martial artist Kung Lao (Max Huang) to battle the evil denizens of Outworld led by the sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han).

+ the vast majority of the cast were good, but only one or two really stood out as anything special. Scorpion and Sub-Zero (an underutilised for story reasons Hiroyuki Sanada and Taslim, respectively) carry the bulk of the ‘good acting’, but I did really get behind the friendship between Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Chin Han (the antagonistic sorcerer, Shang Tsung) just didn’t feel as powerful or important as Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the 1995 film, and he certainly wasn’t played up to such a hilarious degree. Josh Lawson’s Kano, the foul-mouthed and jerk-ass Australian mercenary, was my personal favourite and clear breakout character (but between he and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad, I’m starting to think that’s just what the world assumes all of us Aussies are like?)
+ generally speaking, there is good Hollywood action scenes, with all the thwacks, snaps and holy craps we’ve all come to expect (but see below about my thoughts on the martial arts side of things). The special effects are fine, including the gore, but I couldn’t help but feel it was still a bit cheesy. Maybe that was intentional?
+ after the bloodless offering in the late 90s, it was good to see the series’ ultraviolence portrayed in a way that was both faithful to the games, but not quite as disgusting to non-fans of blood and gore as those games. I mean yes, there are amputations, bisections and head crushes a plenty, but they aren’t at all “realistic” and certainly not as gratuitous as the fatalities from most the most recent video game
+ there were a lot of Australians involved in this; aside from the obvious Josh Lawson as Kano, Jessica McNamee (Sonya Bldae), Laura Brent (Cole’s wife, Alison) and Nathan Jones (Reiko) are all Australian, as are the voices of both Kabal and Goro (Damon Herriman and Angus Sampson, respectively). Not to even mention that director Simon McQuoid and produced James Wan also come from the land down under

– I’m personally really unhappy with the series newcomer, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) as a character. I understand needing a fish-out-of-water to get the plot going for people who have not played the games since they were in an arcade in the mid 80s, but the Sonya/Jax team could have filled that role perfectly. Cole’s fights, his unlocked “super” ability and his ultimate story outcome all just reeked of someone trying too hard to make a cool protagonist. I am more than happy to flesh this out in a spoiler filled rant if anyone needs it, but if the desire was not to use Johnny Cage for whatever reason, there were plenty of already canon warriors they could have used
– I would love to say the fight choreography was great, but who knows? There was so much Hollywood/Jason Bourne-style shaky-cam and hundreds of cuts per minute that it was too hard to tell. Joe Taslim has been in both The Raid and The Night Comes For Us (aka two of my favourite films ever) and certainly doesn’t need obscene camera work to make his action look good. In fact, just let Gareth Evans direct the next movie
– the story felt simultaneously very bare bones (“Earth has to protect itself against Outworld”) and convoluted, with at least a dozen named characters vying for a memorable spot in sub-two hour movie. Mortal Kombat as a brand may not be quite as known as Batman losing his parents, or Spider-man’s uncle getting shot, but this film rushed into high concepts and took too long to get anywhere meaningful
– a lot of my issues with the 2020 animated film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, were also on display here, including the large number of group brawls and/or at least handicap fights. Perhaps moreso than that, there was no Mortal Kombat, ie. the titular tournament. It’s a bold choice to name your movie after something that doesn’t happen in the movie
– on a smaller, personal note, I really would have liked characters such as Mileena, Goro and even Sub-Zero to just do a bit more. Unfortunately, Subby didn’t rip anyone’s spine out here, and whatever you’ve seen of Mileena in the trailers is basically all she does. Goro might be the biggest waste of a character in a long time

> I watched this the same day as UFC 261, and I think what we saw on that show was more graphic than any of the gore in this.

Should you see this film: Overall, yes. This reboot walks the line between an origin story for the overall concept of the Mortal Kombat, and a big Avengers-style team up in the first outing, which means it never really felt like the beginning or culmination of anything. That said, it’s just a Hollywood action movie that will most certainly spawn any number of sequels, and it was a perfectly fine way to spend a lazy weekend night.

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