By Richard Chachowski
Many people were excited for the new highly anticipated adaptation of the video game franchise, “Mortal Kombat.” The popular fighting game is considered one of the most successful video game series of all time, with many of its characters, such as Sub-Zero and Scorpion, considered some of the most recognizable and iconic characters in gaming fandom.
Naturally, there was a lot of pressure on the part of the studio, Warner Bros., to deliver on the fan’s expectations. This newest attempt to bring “Mortal Kombat” to the Big Screen, however, serves largely as yet another Hollywood attempt to lay the groundwork for a cinematic franchise of “Mortal Kombat,” rather than actually taking the time to craft a movie fans can enjoy in its own right. The result is this choppy, over-the-top, poorly-written wreck of a movie that will likely only serve as a let-down to fans of the “Mortal Kombat” series, and a huge turn-off for any other moviegoers curious about whether to see the movie at all.
The film incorporates much of the story and mythos of the original “MK” games into this movie. In order to save Earth from Outworld (a darker, more violent alternative dimension of Earth), the planet’s mightiest warriors train to compete in a tournament pitting the greatest fighters of our world and Outworld against one another. While these “Earthrealm” warriors are training, however, the evil Outworld sorcerer, Shang Tsung, sends his best fighters to sabotage the competition and ensure Earth’s protectors fall before the tournament can ever begin.
The entire plot of “Mortal Kombat” ‘21 seems to dedicate itself more to setting up a bigger conflict and storyline in the future rather than focusing on developing an actual movie here. Throughout its runtime of just under two hours, the movie sets up the major conflict, the titular Mortal Kombat tournament between Outworld and Earthrealm and its respective fighters, without ever actually showing the tournament, leaving it open for a sequel.
Indeed, one of “Mortal Kombat”’s fans’ biggest complaints about the new movie is the fact that the movie completely leaves out the classic titular tournament that serves as one of the series's main overarching storylines (you know, basically the reason they fight in the first place and the main thing fans were excited to see). Removing that aspect of the storyline in favor of just hyping it up for a future installment comes across as a let-down of sorts.
As a result, the movie lacks any definitive conclusion, seeming to lack any major ending or final battle (although I guess the somewhat underwhelming fight sequence between the newly resurrected Scorpion and his archrival Sub-Zero counts). It’s like if you went to see “Rocky” and the movie showed you his entire training and took the time to build up the main fight, but at the end the filmmakers just decided to push it off so you had to see the sequel in order to see Rocky actually take on Apollo.
Despite the lacking appearance of the tournament, however, the film does still deliver a fair amount of action and violence that made the video game series so well-known in the past without actually seeming too gory and or excessively tasteless, seeming more over the top than anything else. Perhaps limited by its CGI (one of the characters, Goro the four-armed monster, looks like a character from a Playstation 3 game), the movie’s violent moments don’t seem overly realistic, and the movie doesn’t fully adopt the more stomach-churning “Fatalities” that involve characters ripping out spines or other body parts that has gained the series a significant level of controversy over the years.
Many “MK” fans might be happy to see some of their favorite Fatalities appear in live-action, as well as being able to see their favorite fighters on the Big Screen. With such a rich array of characters at their disposal, “Mortal Kombat” fans might find it weird that the movie instead chooses to focus on an entirely new character, Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Tan, like most of the actors in this film, gives a lazy, overacted performance, almost like he’s reading from cue cards off-screen written by your run-of-the-mill ‘80s action movie writer. This and the other poor performances in the movie may be more a result of the film’s ham-fisted script than anything else (it’s going to be difficult making anything in the movie’s screenplay sound believable or genuine). The movie tries to be funny a decent amount of the time, but only an occasional joke or two actually land. Fans of the franchise might find themselves laughing more in recognition at such famous lines from the actual games, such as “Flawless victory” or Scorpion’s “Get over here!” being said aloud than the actual attempts at humor the movie tries for.
In all fairness, adapting a popular video game franchise into a movie has never really been successfully done before. Many “Mortal Kombat” fans in particular remember the two awful live-action adaptations of “Mortal Kombat” from the mid-90s that were laughably bad with some of the most cartoonishly written, clunky lines you may ever hear in a movie. In that respect, this newest “Mortal Kombat” is by far an improvement of the previous films, but still remains a shameless cash-grab that's only purpose is to just build up for another movie in the future.
Perhaps fans of the beloved game series will be the ones most let down with this disappointing reboot (no one’s more disappointed with a bad song by a good musician than that musician’s fans after all). Overall, the effort on the filmmakers’ part to hype up the sequels to this film might have been better served by just making a TV adaptation of the series and having this entire movie condensed over the course of an episode or two instead. It may be that future installments of this movie will do the series better justice and deliver a movie “MK” fans can be excited about. This movie may be a disappointment, but with how ultimately forgettable it is, at least it won’t stay in your memory for very long.