Saturday, May 1, 2021

Mortal Kombat (2021): A Review (Review #1482)



I did not play Mortal Kombat or see any Mortal Kombat films before we got this reboot. Apart from its fantastic theme song I have little knowledge of anything related to this video game turned franchise. I'm someone who judges a film based on what it is aiming for, but even by those measures Mortal Kombat is just a bad film. Sleep-inducing, grotesquely violent and self-serious for something this schlocky, Mortal Kombat is just a bad film.

Japan 1617. Master swordsman Hanzo Hayashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) finds his past catch up with him when he and his family are killed by the villainous Bi-Han. Moving towards the present-day, young MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is contemplating retirement when approached by Jax (Mehcad Brooks). 

Unbeknown to Cole, he is to join an elite group of humans to fight in an otherworldly battle known as "Mortal Kombat". Also unbeknown to him, he is a descendant of Hanzo (a young baby having been missed by Bi-Han, now known as Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Quickly thrown into a chaotic universe, Cole trains at the secret temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Under his personal protection, Lord Raiden gets the other champions to train to fight his nemesis, the sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Eventually, one of them, arrogant mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) turns rouge, and begins an all-out bloodbath between the forces of Lord Raiden and Shang. Some survive, others do not, but with Sub-Zero defeated by a resurrected Hanzo, now known as Scorpion, it will be a mere matter of time before these two group battle it out again. Their next battle may even be joined by a movie star named Johnny Cage...

I can appreciate a film that attempts to keep to its video game roots, even to where a novice like myself can recognize catchphrases and killing methods. As such, I figure I should judge it on a curve. However, what can one say about an action film where I was struggling to stay awake only to be jolted awake by seeing a woman sawn in half?

Mortal Kombat the game was not shy about letting the blood gush all over, but Mortal Kombat the film went so insanely overboard with the gruesome aspects of it that if one didn't know it was fiction they might think it was a snuff film. Right from the get-go when Hanzo is killed we see director Simon McQuoid not shy away from showing just how graphic he could be.

We see arms violently removed, people frozen and their souls sucked out. It may be similar to the video game, but it is rather horrifying to someone with little or no knowledge of it all.

Perhaps that might be forgiven if Mortal Kombat was any fun. Instead, it is so deadly serious that is is also a bit boring. Few if any of the characters had any personality, taking everything oh-so-seriously that it sucks out the joy of what could be a romp. This may be why the character of Johnny Cage is so popular, as he is probably one of the only Mortal Kombat combatants to show any humor.

I don't think anyone in Mortal Kombat cracked a smile. Again, while there should be a balance between all-out laughs and all-out grim, Mortal Kombat never really bothered to make any of the characters save one interesting. Lawson was the clear standout as Kano because he was the only one to have a genuine personality. Brash, arrogant, obnoxious and unapologetically selfish and self-centered, Kano was worth watching.

To be fair, Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade also has some good moments, particularly as she is the only one who isn't initially marked to be a combatant. However, the rest of the cast was nondescript. In the leading role, Lewis Tan I think did as well as could be done with such an underwritten part, but he suffered by being a bit bored-looking like everyone else.

It was to the point where Mortal Kombat is so dull I genuinely missed the part where Kano turns to the Dark Side, let alone cared if any of them lived.

Perhaps Mortal Kombat's worse fault lies in its naked declaration of a sequel. It is bad enough that Mortal Kombat violated one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End Your Film By Suggesting There Will Be a Sequel. It is in the blundering way it did. You had Shang declare he would raise a new army. You had Raiden declare he is seeking new warriors. You had Cole going to Hollywood to search for a new champion. You had Cole pass a poster announcing the newest movie from action star Johnny Cage.

While it shouldn't be a surprise Mortal Kombat would get a sequel, you don't need so many spotlights to announce that. 

Mortal Kombat is boring and violent, a terrible mix. For me, it did not test my might but my patience.


1 comment:

  1. I too liked Jessica McNamee's performance. Probably the most grounded performance in the movie. About the violence, the director was no doubt trying to capture the spirit of the video game.

    For a far more hardcore adaptation, check out the animated movie that came out last year: Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge.


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