Mortal Kombat (2021)
An enjoyable movie, for what it is
After the first few minutes of Mortal Kombat, it was clear that I was in for some creative violence. And it was a special kind of creative violence too. It wasn’t just an action movie with clever stunt work. Instead, it stood out the way The Matrix and the Mission Impossible movies stood out for their action sequences. Mortal Kombat combined martial arts, CGI and fantasy with a heightened level of violence. And this wasn’t the violence seen in gore horror either – this was over-the-top video game violence, but in a live-action format. For the most part, Mortal Kombat really worked. However, when the movie didn’t work, it really fell flat.
In the movie, the Outworld realm has won the last nine Mortal Kombat tournaments over the Earthrealm. If they should win the next, they’ll be able to conquer the Earthrealm. When the Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung learns of a prophecy that could be disastrous for his realm, he sends his champions to kill those of his opponents. Earthrealm’s protector, Raiden, must locate his champions and awaken their arcana before the Outworld can find and kill them.
I’m not a video game guy. It’s not my thing. So logically, I’ve also never played the video game that the Mortal Kombat movies are based on. Because of this, a lot of the movie’s game references were foreign to me. Jax’s head clap and Kano’s heart rip and Shang Tsung’s soul sucking had very little meaning to me beyond looking cool.
I’m fully aware of the fact that a lot of Mortal Kombat’s enjoyment as a movie is built on familiarity to the game. Fortunately for me, the movie still works well without that familiarity. I found myself feeling both aware of the video game references and included in a genre I normally feel excluded from.
What I liked
The visual effects in Mortal Kombat were very well done. The CGI was on par with many other recent big-budget Hollywood movies. But the way it was used was entirely unique. Bloody ice daggers, lightning teleportation and buzz saw hats made for an exciting spectacle.
Despite several glaring flaws (which I’ll get to in the next section), Mortal Kombat felt completely confident. I can only assume James Wan has something to do with this. His production company helped make the movie and he is listed as one of the producers. Wan already has two billion-dollar movies under his belt so he seems to know how to take risks and have them pay off. Mortal Kombat‘s confidence is especially similar to that of Aquaman, which would have been a disaster in less capable hands. Whether James Wan is really the secret sauce to Mortal Kombat is definitely up for debate. But either way, its confidence as a movie is undeniable.
What I didn’t like
The cast of Mortal Kombat is abnormally hit-or-miss for a movie with a $55 million budget. Some of the movie’s moments are easy to get lost in because of solid performances. Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Josh Lawson as Kano come to mind here. But other moments (far too many), feel like porn scenes without the sex. It was as if many of the actors were cast based on their martial arts skills instead of their acting skills – instead of a combination of both.
Interestingly, had those martial arts been put to proper use in the movie, the acting might have felt less porn-y. For some reason, Mortal Kombat actually didn’t have many fight sequences at all. Instead, there was a lot of exposition and set up for future sequels (and possibly prequels).
The addition of better acting and more fight sequences could have easily lifted this movie from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
Mortal Kombat is a decent ride of a movie. Based on its red band trailer, its not nearly as difficult to watch as I thought it would be. The movie’s violence is eccentric in a manner similar to Kill Bill‘s. As a moviegoer, you aren’t expected to endure characters’ pain or fear as you watch. Instead, fight sequences are swift, bloody and detached spectacles. If you’re prepared for some bad acting and over-the-top (in a good way) visuals, you’ll enjoy Mortal Kombat. And if you’re a fan of the game, you’ll enjoy it even more.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures (2021)