I’ve been waiting YEARS for this movie. As a huge fan of the video game series and the original 1995 film, I was excited by the prospect of a more adult, more brutal take on the Mortal Kombat story, complete with fatalities, better acting, and a darker tone. Finally last Friday, at the end of a long day at work, I was able to sit down, put on HBO Max and enjoy the movie. And enjoy the movie, I did.
Was it everything that I was hoping for? No. Was it as terrifying as Kevin Tancharoen’s Rebirth trailer from 2010? No. Was it gory? Hell yes. Was it fun to watch? You betcha.
To be totally honest, I really enjoyed the 2021 Mortal Kombat. I’m probably going to watch it again before my HBO Max subscription expires. As a prequel/origin story for a new character and establishing plot, this was well-executed. I was extremely pleased with the acting, costumes, fight scenes, and music. The portrayal of fan favorite characters Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Jax, Sonya, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, and Kano were fabulous. In fact, I found that most of Raiden’s Earthrealm warriors were the better portrayed half of the cast, getting more screen time, more humor, and better motivation. Kano was particularly acted well and had some of the best quips and portrayal on screen. I enjoyed his being at odds with Kung Lao and Liu Kang.
The only ones I felt needed a little more were Raiden and the completely new character, Cole Young. Raiden needed more screen time, and Cole was kind of…blah? Wished he had something else to distinguish him against the other characters. When your sharing the screen with someone who can shoot a laser from his eye, a guy with metal arms, and someone else with a hat that can act like a buzz saw, bringing a distinct feel and edge to a new MK champion would make him not blend in or get shown up. You want him to feel somewhat “everyman” but not generic.
The bad guys though? Oof. I was so sad about how little screen time they were given. Take Shang Tsung for instance. He’s supposed to be this film’s big bad, the guy pulling all the strings in an effort to cheat at the tournament and prevent Mortal Kombat from even happening. I’m sure that Ng Chin Han is a tremendous actor; but comparing his portrayal to that of the legendary Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from the ’95 film shows that there’s really no comparison. Tagawa’s acting was one of the most solid and believable things about that film, and that final fight where he’s screaming at Robin Shou’s Liu Kang, red-faced and with such malice…. So, so hard to beat a performance like that. But I wish that Han had been given the chance to. His dialogue and limited time on-screen doesn’t provide much of an opportunity to. Maybe in the next film? We’ll see.
Then, that leaves the other baddies: Mileena, Kabal, Reptile, Reiko, Nitara, and Goro. Some of these characters have such deep lore within the Mortal Kombat universe, it feels almost like we were cheated out of experiencing it here. I played the original trilogy of games as a kid, so my nostalgia toward certain characters is stronger than most. Personally, Reiko and Nitara weren’t much of a draw for me, though it was fun that they were included. Mileena though…
That character deserved better than the end she got. Someone who has been a part of the franchise since MK2? Her whole past and relationship to Kitana and Shao Kahn felt like it got thrown down the garbage chute. Same with Goro. He barely even spoke and his presence as a Mortal Kombat champion and prince of the Shokan was barely brought up.
While he has spent some of his time in the games being a bad guy, he’s mostly been a force for good. Kabal was one of my personal favorite fighters in MK3 and I was sad to see him reduced to a flunky with a handful of lines. Seeing as how in this version of the MK universe Kano is responsible for causing Kabal’s past injuries, I’m not convinced of the entire “turning traitor” plot line and having those two work together doesn’t really make sense in the grand scheme of the MK universe. And Reptile? He was scary, more animalistic, but not quite what I’d hoped for, especially for being such an iconic character. The whole fight scene with Sonya, Cole, and Kano was pretty great though.
All in all, I enjoyed the film. The idea of not including the actual tournament has not sat well with some people. Though I really like the original ’95 film that included it, I appreciate the idea that there is a pre-cursor to the MK tournament, that we get to see the story before, during, and (if the rumors are to be believed) after. It sounds like there will be several more MK films with the idea of building a universe around them, kind of like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think this would be so cool, especially since some of these characters have some pretty kickass origin stories. I’ll be looking forward to the future of these Mortal Kombat films and to see what other characters will turn up in the sequel. My hope is that the bad guys get a little more screen time and attention the next time around.
Until next time,