By Jason Delgado
I can recall when the Mortal Kombat video game was first released in arcades back in 1992. Everybody was kung-fu fighting, virtually, on the wave of fighting game mania set the year prior by Street Fighter 2. People would huddle around the arcade cabinets just to watch, or pluck down their quarters to call next. The difference with Mortal Kombat was that it amped up the violence with cartoonishly brutal finishing moves known as “fatalities,” such as when the character of Sub-Zero would rip out his opponents spine, while blood splattered to the ground.
Parents, morality groups, and even representatives in government were outraged, the latter of which led to the creation of the ratings system for games, which is still used to this day. The extra attention to the game only added to its popularity, spawning many gaming sequels, and a rare hit video game movie adaptation in 1995.
The original Mortal Kombat of 1995 featured a cast of relatively lesser known actors, as does the 2021 version, and both stories hinge on a fight to the death tournament between champions of different realms (Including Earth), but that’s where most of their similarities end. The ‘95 Mortal Kombat was PG-13 and chock full of campy 90’s action fun (It featured good fighting scenes for the time), whereas Mortal Kombat 2021 is rated R, and full of the gore that helped to make the game so infamous.
Mortal Kombat (2021) follows the story of a new character, Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan of Into the Badlands), as a washed-up MMA fighter with a wife and daughter as his only motivations left in life. Young meets several characters from the game along the way, while trying to evade the baddest superpowered assassin on the planet, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim, The Raid: Redemption). Shang Tsung (Ng Chin Han, The Dark Knight) is this film’s version of the Star Wars Emperor to Sub-Zero’s Vader, having sent the ice-man to interfere with the tournament before it takes place.
Let’s get to the good, the bad, and the ugly (besides the evil Shang Tsung’s soul-sucking maneuver). The action is entertaining, especially the climactic battle, and it’s fun to see the “fatalities” along the way. The fighting scenes are better than the original, and maybe that’s all this audience really asks for. Fans of the game surely also enjoy hearing the iconic catchphrases incorporated here such as “Get over here!” and “Finish him!”
The character of Kano (Josh Lawson, House of Lies) is bad boy comedic relief, although his jokes are hit and miss overall. Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi provides some emotion to this movie that it’s otherwise lacking, while Mehcad Brooks and Max Huang both do a fine job embodying Jax and Kung Lao respectively.
Everyone has their own personal favorite character or characters to use in games like Mortal Kombat, and mine was Sub-Zero. Ninjas are awesome by their very nature, so adding in the cool black and blue uniform and ice-powers is just icing on the cake for me. It’s fun to see him as such a formidable character in the movie, and his rivalry and battle with Scorpion is the heart and soul of the film in my opinion, and should’ve been the main focus of the script.
The acting in Mortal Kombat is stiff overall, to the point where I wanted to see the actors of the 1995 film back in the roles that they infused with personality. The soundtrack is another thing that I miss from the original Mortal Kombat movie. It had a 1990’s techno feel which capture the music scene and energy of the time (as did the movie itself), but it still got the audience pumped up the way that “Eye of the Tiger” does for Rocky 3. During the pivotal final battle, the new Mortal Kombat (2021) teased a version of the old iconic song in the background, but then instead played some other generic tune, only to remind me how much better the old music was.
My biggest gripe with Mortal Kombat, besides slow pacing, a lack of enough focus on the most compelling characters, and too much exposition, is that this film felt more like it was merely an introduction for future movies in the franchise, rather than a stand-alone film. One of the biggest strengths of Marvel cinema is how enthralled the audience is with each and almost every movie (and now streaming series as well), even though we know that many more sequels and connected films are down the road. Mortal Kombat is mostly buildup, without enough of a payoff.
Audiences however seem to be enjoying it, with an 87% audience score at the time of this writing on Rotten Tomatoes. Mortal Kombat made 22.5 million over the weekend, a nice box office haul considering the fact that people can watch at home on HBO Max.
I give Mortal Kombat two out of five hot sauce packets. It was more Sub-Zero than fire for my taste.