Mortal Kombat: Another sorry excuse for a bad video game-based movie?
Mortal Kombat (2021)
  • Platform: HBO Max
  • Release Date: 23/04/2021
  • Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks
  • Director: Simon McQuoid

I love the Mortal Kombat games and have spent hours playing them quite recently. What I appreciate about the games is that it packs in a lot of history and lore. That is something unprecedented for a fighting game of this kind and it just goes on to reiterate what makes these games the rousing success stories that they have been over the years. It would be wrong not to mention the sensational graphics, the extraordinary environment design, and the amount of hard work that is put in to make each and every one of the hundreds of characters stand out and have distinct personalities and character traits.

Even with such a wonderful source material to lie back on, the first two Mortal Kombat films released in 1995 and 1997, respectively, were some of the sorriest excuses of films to date. Warner Brothers shunned the project for an eternity thanks to the vituperative criticism that the films garnered from fans and critics alike. Thankfully, over the years some projects related to the franchise made an impact on the viewers and the huge surge in superhero films over the last decade paved the way for another crack at this franchise. The makers only had to ensure that they made a film better than its predecessors and that wasn’t too high a bar to reach for.

Mortal Kombat begins with a thrilling 10 minutes prologue that introduces us to the character of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). He is enjoying a blissful existence with his wife and two kids. His marital bliss is viciously intruded upon by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), a Chinese adversary who seems to have a hatchet to bury with Hasashi. Hasashi is unable to save his wife and child and is killed by Bi-Han. However, his wife had hidden away their daughter that Bi-Han couldn’t find. The infant is eventually rescued by Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), who we later learn is the protector of the Earthrealm and is brought up in the security of his lair.

A snap from the movie Mortal Kombat (2021)

Hundreds of years later, the Earthrealm is on the verge of falling into the hands of the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han) of the Outworld. The only thing that can save earth from annihilation is a group of Champions led by the descendent of Hanzo Hasashi. Shang Tsung realizes the importance of destroying these unlikely heroes and sends in his assassins to kill them before they realize their true potential and form a team formidable enough to lay waste to his plans. His plan seems to be working fine but then something happens that not only reveals the true might and heroism of earth’s champions but also sets them up for a lot more than what they had signed up for.

Mortal Kombat delivers on all counts that were necessary to make it an instantly better film than any other that we have seen so far related to the franchise. Most of the people will come to this film for the gore and the action of which the film has a lot. I loved how they used the different settings to ramp up the action and the impact on it. The film is rated ‘R’ and that gave it the chance to bring to the screen some of the most memorable, grotesque, and yet stylized kills that we associate with the games. I just loved how Kung Lao (Max Huang) cuts a character in half using his hat. I loved how Jax (Mehcad Brooks) smashes the head of his opponent using his metallic hands. I jumped off my seat when Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) delivered his amazing fatality attack to finish off Kabal. All of it is pretty to look at and has enough gore and bravura to satisfy the purist of the game.

I still noticed that many of the hand-to-hand combat sequences were not shot in grand wide angles. Simon McQuoid chose to go for a more quick-cut editing style and tighter angles on the fight choreography that did spoil the fun for me a little. One also has to take into account the fact that for the viewers who haven’t played the game and have no idea of things like “fatality” and “flawless victory”, many of the most iconic moments will not have the kind of impact that it did on me. Hence it is safe to say that the film will appeal to the gamers and the fans of the franchise a lot more than someone who walks into it without any prior knowledge. It must also be noted that a prior idea of the games and their lore will definitely help in understanding the stakes better and also appreciating its fan service.

A snap from the movie Mortal Kombat (2021)

I wasn’t expecting a lot in terms of performances after what I saw in the trailer. However, a few of the actors did a really good job with their respective characters. Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim own the first 10 minutes of the film. If that kind of intensity in the performances was maintained throughout, this would have been an instant classic. Sadly that is not the case. Josh Lawson as Kano delivers the best performance of the film. He is immensely likeable as the fast-talking psychopathic marauder with a penchant for insult comedy. His character arch through the narrative was also dealt with efficiently and that went a step further in enhancing the appeal of the character.

Tragically the protagonist of the film, Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan comes across as a one-dimensional cardboard-ish rendition that begs the question of why the makers had to go for a character – that has no history associated with it and is not even interesting – to be the protagonist of a film like this. They could have easily gone for any other character among the roster of over 100 characters from the game. Max Huang and Ludi Lin playing two iconic Mortal Kombat characters Kung Lao and Liu Kang are terrible. They neither have the physicality to make an impact with the kind of the characters that they are playing nor have the acting guiles to make up for the lack of physicality. The same can be said about Jessica McNamee who plays Sonya Blade. All she does is look angsty throughout the narrative.

Even with all its deficiencies and ludicrous storytelling, Mortal Kombat was a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable experience for me. I went to the extent of re-watching it for this review and it didn’t drag for even a second. Simon McQuoid has been smart enough to understand the importance of constantly pushing the narrative forward with action sequences and revelations and that has contributed to a great extent in making the film feel organic and fast-paced. The fans of the game will have a great time with this film. The ones who walk into it with little to no knowledge of the games might find it patchy and hard to connect with at certain junctures. They also might not be able to experience the kind of rush that someone who has played and experienced the fatalities of the game would do when Scorpion yells his iconic words “get over here”.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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