Mortal Kombat (2021) ***
One Liner Review:
A fun, exciting, action packed movie that isn’t afraid to take big risks with it’s brutality.
The action is great. The costumes and characters are fun. Even the story is kind of interesting, especially in the changes it makes and what it chooses to leave out or replace. For example, the protagonist is a new character, Cole Young. And while he’s not especially great as a character himself, he has some clever ties to other more established characters. Another strange move is that the tournament itself isn’t featured here. And maybe that’s a good thing because as a result the movie feels very different from the 1995 film, and very much like it’s own thing. This isn’t a super smart movie, but with the Arkansa (special power,) concept and the R rated violence, it is sure a lot of fun.
The new Mortal Kombat remake is something pretty cool. It’s a movie that takes all the mythos from both the video games and the movies that came earlier, and spins them off in a completely new way. The plot still centers around a fighting tournament that will decide the future of earth, only this movie doesn’t actually show the tournament. Now that might sound frustrating, since it seems like a no brainer that the central event of these games (the movie is based on the world famous 90s video game,) would be the one thing that they must get right. But the truth is, this movie finds clever ways to have a tournament feel (lots of one-on-one fights in different locations, in a vs situation) without actually having the tournament itself. And that works out pretty nicely, so that they can save the tournament for a sequel, which is clearly the plan.
The 1995 Mortal Kombat movie is widely considered today to be one of the best video game movies ever made. In fact, it might even be the best. That’s mainly because the bar is so low, with. no other video game movies even being considered good (Tomb Raider, Assassins Creed, Street Fighter, Super Mario Brothers, Doom, Sonic the Hedgehog.) Every time another one comes out, there’s all of this hope that it might be the single movie that shows these films can be decent, and then it fails. But now we have a new Mortal Kombat film, and it’s nearly as good as the original movie. That’s not to say that it’s great, but simply that it does everything it’s supposed to do, gives us what we want from this type of movie, and even finds ways to get creative from time to time.
The reason why this movie works is because the effects and action are pretty stellar. So is the wide range of characters they bring in and the way the movie goes to great pains to give us both moves and dialogue from the games. The story itself is just okay, but it does just about everything it can to bring us into this world in a way that is meant to be grounded and gritty. Not an easy accomplishment, when you are talking about a fictional land, called Outworld. Many have claimed that it’s taking a Batman Begins approach to the larger than life, fantasy-super hero genre. That means serious, dark, gritty, and grounded in reality. The truth is, this movie is a lot more like the first X-Men movie than it is Batman Begins. Like X-Men this movie is about a team of mutants, or creatures, who are each uniquely different in their appearances and abilities. And like that movie, this one starts by hitting some very similar beats.
The obvious similarity. is the cage match and bare knuckles fight. The first X-Men movie starts with Wolverine in such a fight, literally fighting shirtless in a cage. Here in Mortal Kombat, it’s Cole Young who is in the cage fight. He’s a new character to the Mortal Kombat world, (not from the games.) The reason both movies introduce their heroes this way is to show us some action and violence as raw as it can get. No superpowers, no special abilities, no props, no shirts. The cage fights show our fighters doing the most they can with the bare minimum. And there are still even more references to X-Men than that. Like the first time we see Sub Zero. In the first X-Men movie, Rogue asks Wolverine toward the start of the film if it hurts when Wolverine’s claws come out. His response is “every time.” It’s giving us something to think about that we always kind of just took for granted. It’s grounding the claws idea in reality. Here, in Mortal Kombat, we see that in order for Sub Zero to ice up his hands, the ice must break through his skin, so that when he closes his fist, blood comes out. It’s a small detail, and not nearly as clear as it was in that X-Men movie, but it works.
The movie opens with a fantastic sequence from feudal Japan where Sub Zero shows up to the compound of a warrior and kills the man’s entire family. This warrior is Hanzo, the man who will later become Scorpion, and we see him craft his famous spear on a rope weapon from the games. That weapon actually gets an origin story, starting out as a farmer’s tool. How cool is that? The way that Honzo wheels this thing around is pretty incredible, as it slices through attackers like butter. And then we get a fight of Hanzo vs Sub Zero, which is also pretty incredible. It includes more use of the rope spear weapon and characters being thrown into rocks and trees. The whole situation is meant to setup this ancient rivalry and arch enemy relationship between the characters and to give us some back story before the tournament story and featured characters story actually begins. It’s a pretty perfect sequence. The only misstep is that when the title Mortal Kombat appears, they could have given us some better music to accompany it. How about throwing in a bit of the classic Mortal Kombat song here? They strategically waited on using that music for as long as possible, only bringing it in towards the very end of the movie, but when you’ve got music as good as that, you should bring it in as soon as possible.
That opening Hanzo-Sub Zero fight really established the scale and devotion this movie will have to both action and blood. It is absolutely the best choreographed action scene in the entire movie, but that’s okay, because most of the other action scenes use computer effects a little more strongly. That being said, the star of the movie here is Lewis Tan (the actor who plays Cole Young,) and he’s a Martial Artist turned actor who has been in movies and shows like Iron Fist and AMC’s Into the Badlands. Tan is by no means a great actor, but he is pretty great martial artist. And the truth is, his acting is fine. It never takes you out of the movie in any way. Maybe that’s because there is just so much else to look at and take in, at all times. That being said, it’s pretty gutsy that this movie centers its story around a character who never even existed in the video games. It’s a bold move and it pays off, because they are able to give Cole enough story (including his career, his family, and even his heritage,) to make him a character we are interested in following. They also surround him with plenty of colorful and fascinating fighters.
After the cage fight that introduces us to Cole, we meet Jax, a man who approaches Cole in the locker room and asks about the mark on Cole’s skin. It’s the Mortal Kombat sign, a dragon head in a circle. Cole claims it’s a birthmark. Jax looks at it and moves on. But then we find ourselves at an outside of a restaurant at night, with Cole’s daughter sitting at a table waiting while Cole and his wife are inside ordering their food. Suddenly snow appears and then ice. The table and windows frost up. Then the ice moves into the air and we see Sub Zero walking down the street, controlling the ice, and hurling it at the restaurant and at our characters. This is another pretty cool sequence. The movie sure finds clever ways to use Sub Zero. And it’s not finished finding them yet. Cole and his family get a ride to safety from Jax, who let’s them have his car and tells Cole to find Sonya Blade. Then Jax goes after Sub Zero himself, (I love that Cole suggests they take him together.) This is where Sub Zero first freezes Jax’s bullet when he fires a gun, and then freezes Jax’s arms, before tearing them off. It’s gruesome, but it’s also pretty fantastic.
Cole finds Sonya and also a man she is holding prisoner, named Kano. This guy is the lifeline of the movie with a devotion to throwing out insults and punchlines. He’s a mean, angry guy who ridicules everyone he meets. And he’s a whole lot of fun. Sonya is more of the down to earth- exposition character who explains the whole tournament to Cole. And during this time, we take multiple trips into Outworld to meet Shang Tsun, the big bad boss villain. First Tsun meets with Sub Zero and then later with Mileena, a ninja with a bloody mouth filled with fangs and scars across his smile that put the Heath Ledger Joker’s scars to shame. Tsun tells Mileena to dispense Reptile, and she does, sending a giant lizard creature into the trailer of Sonya Blade, for our third great fight of the movie. First there was the Hanzo-Sub Zero opening, next the Jax-Sub Zero scene, and now this Reptile fight, which includes camoflage-invisibilty and ripping out a heart. In terms of fights and action scenes, the movie is on a role.
It doesn’t stop there As the movie goes on, more and more characters are brought in to both sides, leading to more and more special abilities and fantastic fights. We travel with our characters to Raiden’s Temple, where they meet the lightning god Raiden as well as fire-wielding Lieu Kang and razor-hat-throwing Kung Lao. And this is where we learn about an arcana or special move that each “champion,” has inside of him and must find. You can only achieve this if you have the dragon mark on your skin, however Jax has one and so does Kano, but Sonya Blade does not, which becomes one of the plot points of the movie. At the temple, our characters find Jax, unconscious, and without arms. There are people working on him who give him metal arms, but they are tiny and don’t quite look right. They certainly don’t look powerful and resemble T-Rex arms in relation to how big the rest of a T Rex’s body is by comparison. The transformation of Jax’s arms during the course of the movie is another one of the many cool things about this film.
While our heroes are trying to find their arcanas, Shang Tsun is building up his team of fighters which now includes Raiko, (a giant hammer weilding creature,) a woman with bat wings, Kabal – the gas mask iron suit wearing speedster, and Prince Goro – the four armed giant. Each of these characters looks pretty great, and Kabal in particular is a lot of fun with his one-liners, much the same way that Kano is. The two of them even have some history together, and a great scene in which they nearly out-insult each other. The movie gives us more and more of the one-one-one fights between characters and it also gives us lots of deaths. When it comes to those, there’s no holding back on the gruesome, as the movie delivers the signature “fatalities,” from the MK games, or ways characters kills each other using the most violent, bloody means possible. It works. The movie works. Yes, the story is kind of basic in terms of how it doesn’t really go much further than Raiden’s temple, and doesn’t explore Outworld at all. But that’s okay. There is clearly a promise of more to come here. The action is great The arkanas are great The mythology is enjoyable. And the devotion to the games, and bringing in as much as possible, is pretty fantastic. This movie doesn’t exceed the first film simply because that one did actually bring us into Outworld, but as far as rebooting the franchise and getting things started off in the right direction, this movie definitely delivers.