Mortal Kombat (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Simon McQuoid

Stars: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Chin Han, Tadanobu Asano & Hiroyuki Sanada.

Review by Damocles

As a fan of the game … it’s OK. As a fan of film … it’s mediocre.

Video games movies ….

Three words that will strike fear into any self-respecting film critic, because you know that the bar is so low, it might as well be uttered next to the words: Breen, Wiseau or Cage.

However, Mortal Kombat (2021) does surpass the low bar that was set in the previous 2 installments of this … franchise?

First, a bit of disclosure … this review is likely to be more skewed that usual, due to the fact that I am actually a rather substantial fan of the Mortal Kombat game, having followed the franchise since its reboot in Mortal Kombat X.

So as a fan, this film did scratch, a little bit of the fanboy that resided in me. I particularly appreciated the depiction of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kano and Sonya Blade. But with so many characters needing and fighting for screen-time, it is difficult to characterise all the unique heroes and villains that reside in the Mortal Kombat universe.

Thus for much of the film, many of the characters had the slimmest sketches of characters imaginable, making a lot of the characters seem very bland and uninteresting. I also found the protagonist, a character, not featured in the game, Cole Young, to be a very uninspired lead, his motivation for fighting in Mortal Kombat tournament, very bland and generic. In particular, I was disappointed they did not go another route with his character, in just having the ability to summon his ancestor’s abilities and powers at a whim.

Perhaps a strong reason why I was disappointed in the lead so much, is because he was meant to represent the audience’s eyes into the world. But there was such a lack of wonderment or fear in his reactions to seeing superhuman abilities or the world itself that as an audience member, I felt a similar lack of detachment.

Arguably, I felt that the film overall was underwhelming, due to the pacing issues and the lack of depth that was provided to all the characters. I wished there was more to the film, as I felt they really rushed the climax, speeding through fights in a way that did not lead to a very satisfying conclusion to the overall story.

At a 110 minutes, the film is over soon, perhaps a bit too soon, as it drags near the middle with extremely heavy exposition story telling, trying to build the world up. Thus when the conclusion begins, everything feels very rushed and over too quickly, thus leaving you with a sense of dissatisfaction in how they handle the fight sequences.

A bit more time was needed to expand the fight sequences between characters and also establish some much needed backstory for a lot of the villains. Perhaps, this is a hold-over from the Synder’s Cut of Justice League but also a strange step into how film is being watched nowadays, with the line between TV and film being blurred so much, but I think Mortal Kombat would have fared better was a TV series. The budget and look of the film would be perfectly serviceable for a TV series, and thus allow all the characters much more room to be more realised and fleshed out, in addition to being able to really showcase their fights.

The Synder’s Cut proved to me that films can be stretched a bit longer into an almost TV format, much like something such as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should be seen as a extremely long movie, not a episodic series. I would have liked to seen Mortal Kombat pitched as a TV series, with each episode really fleshing out 2 characters, a hero and villain, and featuring their showdown for the climactic battle.

From a technical standpoint, given the budget and the fact that the director is a first timer, the movie looks surprisingly OK, with relatively well placed shots and CGI that doesn’t really offend the eyes. The fight choreography and sequences however lack panache and I think need a bit more time for the eyes to soak in what is happening. The editing was not obnoxious however there were a lot of subtle moments that were missed due to the angle of the camera or the pace of the editing.

What was fun however, were the ways how they included iconic moves and fatalities, as well as some cheesy lines that were often uttered in the games. I appreciated these fan-service moments and found that they didn’t detract from the film, but rather made me enjoy it a bit more than I suspected I would have, if it didn’t have these moments.

From a musical perspective, Mortal Kombat’s score is serviceable, with nothing really to write home about. It emphasizes the right moments enough but is more or less something relegated to the background. This is a bit of a pity, as I was excited to see what Benjamin Wallfisch would do, considering his amazing collaboration with Hans Zimmer on Blade Runner 2049.

His remix of Techno Syndrome is …. much like the film. It’s OK, but lacks the fun over the top nature of the original by The Immortals. With its more reliance on dubstep and electronic synth, the new remix grew on me over time, but nothing quite gets you hyped as the original.

Overall, Mortal Kombat (2021) is on the more positive side of video game adaptations. It isn’t long enough to offend you, but at least there are promising elements there, enough to warrant a drastic improvement if a sequel ever occurs. I smiled a lot at some of the lines, and iconic fight moves and felt that the casting was overall on point.

It isn’t a terrible film, but mediocre overall. I will say though, the climatic battle did at least, leave me with a satisfying feeling, something that can’t be said for a lot of third act battles.

To justify the “Yes” rating … I will say, it’s not a terrible way to spend time in the cinema, but I would recommend avoiding paying the full cinema-going experience for it. It’s a fine film overall. But the emphasis is on the word “fine.”

A scene to recall: The moment when Scorpion appears and the remix of Techno Syndrome kicked in. As a fan of the game, this entire fight got me hyped.

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