MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Fantasy-Martial Arts/Stars: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Mel Jarnson, Nathan Jones, Daniel Nelson; Voices of: Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson/Runtime: 110 minutes
Alright movie goers I want you to tell me to put a pause on it when what I am about to tell you sounds familiar in any way: so despite the obstacles in its path, we are now getting to witness as a cinematic take on a gleefully visceral, and cheerfully gory to the hilt martial arts with fantasy elements video game with a plot that is so novel yet wacky is finally getting to make its way to potentially interested movie goers the world over. Now if any of what I have said sounds even remotely familiar to you dear reader it’s because the iconic video game franchise Mortal Kombat already got the big screen treatment back in the long gone years of 1995 and 1997 respectively and the results were…….well what exactly is the furthest away from good that you can possibly get? Thankfully, after many stops and starts, we now get another stab (pun intended) on the property with a new slice of cinematic pie that is helmed by Simon McQuoid and produced by none other than James freakin’ Wan and this one is actually not that bad. Indeed this is one slice of cinematic pie that manages to follow in the aftermath of the first 2 celluloid attempts by gasp taking the time to genuinely show respect to this iconic franchise to say nothing of the characters that inhabit it. Yes its first half does have its flaws and yes it does end way before it really ought to, but by and large this slice of cinematic pie manages to be that rare adaptation that fans will appreciate due to the in-jokes and nods scattered throughout to say nothing of actually giving us fairly faithful recreations of the characters and the casual movie goer will appreciate for just being a fun popcorn film with some truly incredible fight sequences and buckets of blood and gore in equal measure.
The plot is as follows: Giving us a new hero to the mythos in order to best represent the audience in a vein similar to how Mortal Kombat: Apocalypse allowed gamers to Kreate a Fighter, the 2021 take on Mortal Kombat tells its riveting saga through the eyes of a man by the name of Cole Young. Mr. Young we are able to quickly learn is a gifted fighter in the school of MMA who, although talented, is someone who other fighters use as a punching bag instead of look at as a serious contender. Things are about to change for Mr. Cole though when, following a particularly brutal bout, he is met by a Special Forces operative by the name of Jax Briggs who tells him that a distinct birthmark he has is not random, but rather a mark that proclaims to be a representative for Earth in a martial arts competition against a horrific other dimension known as Outworld that is wishing to conquer what they call Earthrealm (aka us). Yet although things look dire, there is a sliver of hope to be found. Mainly there is a prophecy that Earth’s champions will win the day after being brought together by a descendant of a legendary warrior by the name of Hanzo Hasashi. In a bid to keep the prophecy from occurring however, we see that the ruthless head of Outworld named Shang Tsung has decided to play by his own rules and send his squad, with their nefarious leader Sub Zero leading the pack, out to take care of Earth’s warriors before the tournament can begin. However, this ultimately will lead our intrepid hero on a journey that sees him crossing paths with Jax’s fellow Special Ops colleague Sonya Blade as well as a group of others who all have the same mark that he does including a fire hurler named Liu Kang, a sharp-looking (in more ways than one) hat wearer named Kung Lao, a rude crude dude of a merc calling himself Kano, and the stoic protector for Earthrealm Lord Raiden. Together this unlikely group of allies finds that they are to work together should they wish to save the planet from Shang Tsung, Sub-Zero, and the diabolical minions at their disposal….
The attempt to wrap the narrative around the introduction of a brand new protagonist is in many respects something that functions as an area that is very much a mixed bag in every sense of the phrase. This is because on one hand, the character of Cole is meant to serve more or less as an simple hook for the plot to operate on since everyone in the cast of characters is a game established fighter who can then subsequently tell him, and by default the audience, just what is occurring in the form of exposition and also because Lewis Tan does do a good job both in performance and especially in the fighting sequences. As someone who is an avid fan of the franchise however, I’m not gonna lie: this guy is not even close to being as riveting as any of the other characters in this roster who right off the bat all have going for them the built-in excitement of seeing a character you probably played as at least once in the games be brought to life on the big screen. I mean you are wanting to see Kano fire his eye laser beam, Liu Kang doing his soaring bike kick, and Jax just annihilate whoever or whatever is in his way with those amazing metallic arms of his. However by going down that road, the movie does suffer because our main character by and large does become a secondary character in many respects (though the fact that his “arcana” is pretty one note as well doesn’t help things either). As an expansion of that, I feel that it should be said that the cast assembled for this nowhere near as bad as what we got before, but by no means awards-worthy either since their character construction is all over the place. I mean Lord Raiden and Shang Tsung feel more like Professor Xavier and Magneto in the first X-Men from 2000, but both performers are still fairly true to the characters in terms of look, demeanor, and powers. I really liked Mehcad Brooks as Jax and he does get a couple of good fight sequences in though he does also get skimped on screen time for a while in the film. Josh Lawson as Kano was pretty darn good and I feel he really did a great job at making the scummy rude crude merc a worthwhile character and some of his quips did elicit a chuckle from me. Perhaps my 2 favorites though are Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim as Scorpion and Sub-Zero respectively. Indeed be it in the scenes where they are together or separate these 2 not only became their characters through and through, but are the recently pulled out of a fighter’s chest heart that this movie desperately needs. As for everyone else though, they really do seem to be there due to a combination of both cool powers and pure nostalgia. A quirk that incidentally comes into play when I mention that I really hope you are not watching this slice of cinematic pie to see some truly in-depth explorations of such characters as say Liu Kang and Kung Lao for example. I say this because without saying much while they do show up at key points in the film, it does feel at times like they are just there it seems for fan service even though it is fan service done right and their fight scenes are undeniably impressive to behold. The same incidentally can also be said for several of the antagonists such as Kabal, Goro, and Mileena who are completely one-dimensional in terms of personality, but who do have some truly amazing sequences of….well combat (pun not intended).
With all of that being said however, let’s just be completely honest dear reader: if you are a fan of the video game series than I am willing to bet quite a bit in the way of moolah that you aren’t tuning into this cinematic adaptation to see if it gives you a three-dimensional analysis into this series’ legendary character roster right down to their various psyches and/or neuroses. Rather, you are sitting down and watching this slice of cinematic pie for the express purpose of sitting back and viewing these iconic individuals go toe to toe in combat before tearing each other to shreds….or something to that gory effect. Thankfully, this is one ingredient this slice of cinematic pie is able to do in a way that is absolutely spot-on. I mean I don’t know if I can say a slice of cinematic pie is 110% “good” if not every character to say nothing for a rushed first half of the overall narrative gets their due, but this is one film that knows more than anything I want to see Sub Zero fight someone with an ice sword or Kung Lao make his hat into a saw blade and in that respect this film is incredible satisfying. It also doesn’t hurt that this cast showcases terrific work in the realm of martial arts fighting to say nothing of the fact that this film knows how to be both gory and fun in equal measure. I mean there is literally a scene in this film that will make gamers laugh because it literally is a tribute to every annoying button smasher you ever played against in the game of Mortal Kombat ever. Of course, this film could not think to call itself a “Mortal Kombat movie” if there was no blood or gore in the picture. Suffice it to say then that even though this new stab on the property doesn’t come close to the gore in the games, there are some amazingly brutal deaths in this that will fans of the game happy and stun just about everyone else. Along with that, it should be noted that the effects work that help to enhance the degree of violence in this is well done as well. Yet perhaps the most astonishing thing about the effects within the fights is that they are primarily utilized to up the ante in regards to how visceral what is occurring on screen actually is and in that respect it is quite riveting in the best way possible. Finally if you are a fan of the 1995 adaptation then I would urge you to pay really close attention to this film’s soundtrack. Trust me you’ll thank me later.
All in all I think it is safe to say that courtesy of a phenomenal mixture of blood, gore, delightful brutality, and amazing martial arts combat sequences, this novel take on the narrative of the iconic video game series that is Mortal Kombat is one that, much to this inner video game fanatic’s immense glee, is leaps and bounds better than the ones we got in the 90s. At the same time though, I will also at this time acknowledge that for a movie that runs, not including credits, only an hour and 40 minutes it does perhaps take on way more than it ought to courtesy of being both a team-up movie and a solo hero’s origin saga. Because of that, this slice of cinematic pie’s first half is quite flawed due to both having to deliver a monster truck-size amount of narrative exposition to say nothing of how one-dimensional and not really all that memorable specific characters who most assuredly did deserve more time to shine in this than what they at the end of the day were given. By the time the second half rolls around though, this slice of cinematic pie is able to finally gain the proverbial higher ground and in the process give you, the viewer a wonderfully over the top yet absolutely engaging and entertaining slice of cinematic pie that is not only a fairly well done adaptation on one of the most iconic properties in video game history, but also a fairly well-constructed foundation for any future slices of cinematic pie to build off and expand this truly intriguing world out even further. On a scale of 1-5 I give Mortal Kombat “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.