Movie Review: “Mortal Kombat” is Ultimately a Win for the Audience

Written by: Joe Lollo; student reporter

There are few certainties in life: death, taxes, and the fact that live-action movies based on video games are terrible, except if you suffer from bile fascination. Aside from Detective Pikachu, the Sonic movie, and the original Mortal Kombat movie, that is. Paul W.S. Anderson’s biggest masterpiece, based on the highly successful fighting game, might not be the best of the lot, but since its release in 1995, it has set the bar pretty high for adaptations that embrace and build upon its source material due to how silly and self-aware it was, like the game. 

This makes the new entry in the movie franchise based on the recent video games somewhat of an oddity. Not only does it have to be a good movie, it also has the added pressure of having to outperform the original film – which is essentially the same thing as every game in the franchise – a tournament held between different realms to pick the winner. Directed by Simon McQuoid in his directorial debut, 2021 Mortal Kombat has the advantage of better special effects and over 30 years of history, video games, comics, and books to tap on. 

With that, McQuoid has gone ahead to embrace the violence and gore that is a signature of the franchise. The whole basis of the tournament is to protect each realm from being invaded by other realms. Each realm sends its best fighters and goes into combat that only ends when an opponent dies, judged by the evil Netherrealm emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Thus, the titular “mortal combat” takes place. 

Of course, McQuoid has put in his own twist with the addition of franchise newbie Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a stronger focus on the original Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) as well as the feud that stands between him and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). As seen in the trailer, the movie starts off with a Scorpion’s backstory and how his feud with Sub-Zero came to be. It’s a heart-wrenching tale that not only makes sense of Scorpion’s taste for vengeance but also shows off how brutal and cold-hearted (pun intended) Sub-Zero is. 

The movie then introduces Cole and his family at one of his boxing matches right before the family of three gets hunted down by Sub-Zero. Cole, bewildered and confused, does whatever he can to save his family. To avoid any spoilers, we can simply say that Cole has a significant role in the feud between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, birthing only the sickest fight scene between the three fighters towards the end of the movie. 

And this is where the reboot somehow beats the original, with the amazing fight sequences that shows you what happens when you put real-life martial artists and action choreographers in the mix. Hong Kong action cinema has had it since the 80s, and Hollywood is just learning. For many fans, Cole’s addition may be an off-putting element. After all, we’re here to see the OG characters fight to their death and few will ever think that a cool dragon marking on one’s chest is a birthmark, because it’s the iconic Mortal Kombat logo you’re here for. 

Still, Cole’s addition is a fresh take on explaining the long-standing feud between the two realms and groups of fighters. Lewis Tan hasn’t been in many shows, but we all remember him as the martial arts expert who fought Iron Fist in the Marvel TV series of the same name. Truth be told, I think he would have made a much better Danny Rand because he can actually throw a punch.  

Nonetheless, Cole acts as a segue to understanding the world of Mortal Kombat and who each of the contenders are for viewers unfamiliar with the franchise. From the famed Shaolin duo Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) and military besties, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) to the one-eyed Australian outlaw Kano (Josh Lawson), fans and new viewers alike will get to meet and learn about the characters alongside Cole as the story progresses. Some of these fighters are old school gunslingers, whilst others have extra arms and limbs or love a good blood-licking moment – yes, we’re talking about you, Mileena (Sisi Stringer), in what could possibly be the most satisfying finishing move in the film. 

Having waited years for this movie, some would embrace the in-depth exploration of each character’s abilities, motivations, and personalities and McQuoid plays up the fan service, but where the movie sings is with watching the animated moves gamers know and love, and seeing them transformed onto the big screen. There is no doubt that fans will geek out seeing how each character showcases their unique fighting style, come to their iconic weapons and powers, as well as deliver their celebrated one-liners that have gained widespread popularity.  

Another big part of Mortal Kombat that the film delivers is the gore, the blood, and the action and as the games progressed, brutality and Fatalities got more bloody and creative. Brains splattered, bodies contorted and hearts pulled out of chests – you name it, Mortal Kombat’s got it. That said, the movie does not disappoint in fulfilling blood-thirsty fans’ desires to see some of these characters sliced into half and more, but this gore isn’t just mindless gore, as it resembles what carries the story in the games. 

Moves made famous by the games are also seen in the movie – with some minor changes here and there. The actors adopt different martial arts and fighting styles to properly emulate the way their characters move. There is a particular art, care, and attention given to every action scene and such effort should not go unnoticed. 

Aside from gore and violence, the film prides itself on having multiple characters (including Gods, humans, and unsettling-looking species) and multiple realms that co-exist. In the lore, there’s Earthrealm, Outworld, Netherrealm (otherwise known as hell), Heaven, Dreamrealm, and more. Though the Mortal Kombat movie focuses largely on the first two, with brief glimpses of the Netherrealm, the film successfully transports viewers from the familiar world we live in into this treacherous world, allowing viewers to get fully sucked in and engaged with the story. This is achieved through great world-building to bring the fictional video game world to life. 

Video game adaptations have always been a hit or miss and it’s obvious that McQuoid has spent a lot of time re-creating the video game experience onto the silver screens. Shooting the film in various locations within Australia, viewers are transported to scorching desserts, dried-up creeks, and raging waterfalls to create the look and feel of being in Outworld or Raiden’s temple and more. Unfortunately, Raiden’s temple doesn’t reside in the clouds like the games, but real-location shooting minimizes the need for CGI and green screen, so we’ll take looking authentic over a potentially botched cloudy city any day. 

All in all, Mortal Kombat is a joy to watch for fans and players of the game. As a movie based on a popular video game, it effectively brings the game’s world onto the silver screen with a lot of care and attention to detail. The portrayal of beloved fighters are close enough to their game counterparts, with outfits and fighting styles being almost identical to the game. The visuals, sound effects, gore, and action, though, are exactly what fans have been looking for since the original 1995 film and more.

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