Release: April 23, 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
Screenplay: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham
Starring: Lewis Tan as Cole Young, Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade, Josh Lawson as Kano, Mehcad Brooks and Jax, Ludi Lin as Liu Kang, Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero, Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion
Running Time: 110 minutes
The much anticipated Mortal Kombat cinematic reboot is upon us, and I decided to give it a look. The original is something of a cult classic. One of those movies that is so corny that it manages to be charming. A film based on one of the bloodiest and most violent video games of its time, and yet it contains next to no blood and none of the video game’s trademark gore. The sequel, Annihilation, was a cinematic dumpster fire of bad CGI, bad acting, moronic dialogue, basically the precursor to post-“phase two” MCU flicks. After a few years on ice as a filmic property, one started to hear rumors of a potential rebirth for the series on film. There was a bit of hype around the idea of a reboot based around a short film called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth for a while. That never panned out. Instead, what followed was a web series called Mortal Kombat: Legacy that spawned nineteen episodes between 2011 and 2013. I do not generally follow the production cycles of franchise flicks. The last several years reviewing MCU and DCEU pictures have left something of a bad taste in my mouth with regard to such releases. However, as a gamer, it was inevitable that I would hear updates on the idea of a James Wan produced reboot of Mortal Kombat. Being a fan of some of Wan’s work in the horror milieu, I thought perhaps it would not be so bad. However, as I would run into more and more updates on the status of the film, it became clear that the prevailing political attitudes of current year Hollywood had begun to colour the film’s production.
One particular piece of news that started a small furor was that the film would not include Johnny Cage for the reason that it felt wrong to have a white main character in a movie with a “very Asian feel.” Johnny Cage, while a popular character, has never been the main character in Mortal Kombat. That role has usually been filled by the Chinese Liu Kang or the Japanese Raiden. It really came off as little more than an attempt to virtue signal for head pats and good boy points on the part of the filmmakers. It becomes especially laughable when you consider that they shoved traditional series lead Liu Kang into a glorified background role to focus on forgettable mixed race protagonist of ambiguous ethnicity. Now, there is no problem with mix raced protagonist of ambiguous ethnicity per se. I just find it humourous because whilst Hollywooders signal their virtue over representation for this group and that group, they are shockingly afraid to commit to the bit. Here you have a property with a vast number of Asian characters to choose from. Any one of them could have been fashioned into a compelling protagonist, but you chose to ignore them in favour of Hollywood’s favourite current recurring trope. What’s worse is you cast a guy who can not act and gave the character a watered down, forgettable backstory. Oh, but he’s a descendant of Scorpion, you know? What is the encore? I’ve an idea, how about a Samurai Shodown movie where you shove Haohmaru and Ukyo into the background, and then complain about Galford being too white and then make a slightly re-skinned version of him the main character? I would not normally be too concerned over this kind of thing, but that is basically what they did here. They complained about a third banana being too white, then made a watered down, forgettable, half-tokenized version of him the main character.
Most players of fighting games are familiar with the basic premise of Mortal Kombat. The dimension in which earth exists, referred to as “Earthrealm,” is one of many parallel worlds. One of the other realms, a harsh, barbaric one known as “Outworld,” wishes to invade and annex Earthrealm. In order to give Earthrealm a chance to prevent the invasion, the gods created Mortal Kombat. In order to invade, Outworld must secure ten consecutive victories in the once a generation tournament, and they have won nine thus far. That remains true in this iteration. They never actually get to the tournament in this flick, however. Mortal Kombat continues Hollywood’s modern trend of trying to craft a franchise first and a coherent standalone film (should it flop and not become a franchise) a very, very distant second. After opening with a pretty brutal fight between Scorpion and Sub-Zero along with a group of Lin Kuei assassins, Mortal Kombat devolves from a setup for a decent action/fantasy flick into a glorified series of exposition dumps to world build the most wholly uninteresting version of the series’ lore to date. As is often the case these days, it feels like part one of something. I would actually go one worse and say it feels very much like a film adaptation of the first part of an overlong appendix from a high fantasy novel. It is not a satisfying experience on its own, at all.
It also looks horrendous. The sets look cheap, and the costumes look like bargain bin cosplay from some backwater comic book convention. This was the best they could do with fifty-five million dollars? I have to inquire where all of the money went. I have seen other reviews call this flick “fan service.” If this is Simon McQuoid’s idea of fan service, he must truly hold the audience in complete and utter contempt. Everything about this movie is an insult to the audience’s intelligence, and an insult to the action film genre. At its core, the Mortal Kombat lore is a cheesy homage to Enter the Dragon and Big Trouble in Little China. Perhaps the filmmakers would have been better served by investing some of that time they spent virtue signaling into watching those films a couple of times. By the way, you wanna talk about an “Asian feel?” I have seen plenty of Asian martial arts flicks and fantasy flicks, and this does not come anywhere close. Once again, can we stop with the damn Whedon speak, please? I have nothing against injecting a bit of humour into an action movie, but when you have a character who is supposed to be an arms trafficker and killer who is supposedly wanted by law enforcement in thirty-five countries, you might be better served by not having him rattle off a succession of non-sequiturs and quips that never land like some mincing side character from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.
Apart from actually showing blood and viscera, Mortal Kombat has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. With its lethargic, made for a franchise pacing, weak script, dull “acting,” set designs that make the original Star Trek series look like a mega budget blockbuster, and dollar store costumes, this flick is a product that is not fit for human consumption. I did not think it would be possible to make an adaptation of this property that was so bad that it would make Annihilation look like high art by comparison. How wrong I was, because that is exactly what the filmmakers have done here. If video game movies are going to be the next turn key cash grab after the superhero thing goes belly up, if Mortal Kombat is anything to go by, it’s not going to be pretty. Take a hard pass on this 90s nostalgia cash in.