A mixed bag with some potential
If any of you have ready my past posts, or know anything about me, you will know that I am a gigantic fan of Mortal Kombat, it is my favourite franchise of all time and I claim to be one of the biggest fans in the world, knowing nearly everything there is to know and being a fan since I can remember to talk. The 1995 movie holds a dear place in my heart, Annihilation (1997) was terrible, but so bad it is good and I even like the Conquest TV series (1998). Since then, live action MK has been limited to say the least, we had MK: Rebirth (2010) which was a gritty short film which had two Youtube series launch from that in (2011-2013) called Mortal Kombat Legacy, which I did not mind, but did not love.
I have been waiting my whole life to see a movie do my favourite franchise justice, the story is not The Godfather, but it’s just as good as any comic book story and since they are the biggest movies right now, Mortal Kombat has the potential to be the next big franchise. Finally seeing the trailer for this 2021 movie a month or so ago, I thought that my prayers might be answered, the characters looked like they were ripped straight out of the games, the actors chosen were legit (especially Joe Taslim, read my past post: The Night Comes For Us Review ), so to say the least I was excited. I live in the UK, so I had to wait a while to find a way to watch it, but I finally watched it the other day and even though I haven’t made a post since last May, this has pushed me to write something, as I have ALOT to say. So, let’s get started with the non spoiler review.
NON- SPOILER REVIEW
Let’s start off with what in my opinion is the most important thing to me in a Mortal Kombat movie – the story. I won’t get into too much here, but the story was the most disappointing thing about the movie. It’s first act is perfect set up and it get’s you ready for an awesome movie. Sadly that is the best part of the movie, until the final fight. I understand that adapting something means you don’t need to follow the same story beats completely to the original source material, but there are certain things you should not change and these are what they seemed to choose. Johnny Cage killing Goro in the 1995 movie is the perfect example, does not happen in the games, but it worked for the movie. Is everything about the story bad? No, but for the amount of years they had, this is a pretty poor script. I have written a lot of fan fiction just for myself through the years and I know I could have done a far better job in setting up the first movie than this.
The next is the characters, this is a mixed bag. Sub-Zero is awesome, Hanzo Hazashi was cool, Kano was the standout character (although I haver trouble with that) and a few other characters were good too. Raiden, Shang-Tsung, Mileena, Kabal, Reiko and Nitara sucked though. I will again go into more detail in the spoiler section, but character choices and screen time is pretty bad, feeling more like a fan film sometimes, particularly the scenes in Outworld. It sometimes felt more like a Saturday morning cartoon (think He-Man or Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm…) it was just plain bad. Thankfully though Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya and Jax were portrayed well.
Lastly, let’s talk about what the majority of people will be coming to MK for; the action and violence. This of course is a huge part of the franchise, and although I prefer the lore, the action still needs to be great and having the gore would set it apart from the 1995 PG13 rated movie.
The casting choices would tell you that the martial arts on display would be incredible, sadly they are no better than a fan made short movie that has hired martial artists/ stunt performers. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good fights, but none of them to me stood out, especially compared to the 1995 version with huge stand out fights such as: Liu Kang vs Reptile, Johnny Cage vs Scorpion and Liu Kang vs Shang Tsung. The fights feel rushed, and unfulfilling in this new film.
The gore on the other hand is handled brilliantly, it’s gory without overdoing it. With that said, I expected the fights to be more on the level of : The Raid, The Night comes for us or even Daredevil, where in all these you can see the damage happening to the characters, not just the deaths.
Also with the fights, a common complaint has been the boring music and yeah, the music is pretty boring.
With all this said, what would I rate the movie? It may have come across very negative, but I still somewhat enjoyed the movie, it was just not any where as good as I wanted it to be and when we go into spoilers we can talk more about that!
Let’s start off with the biggest problem with the movie, instead of doing the Mortal Kombat Tournament, they decided to do a prequel to introduce the characters. This isn’t a terrible idea, but the way they did it is a mess. None of the characters, minus Kano and Cole Young get enough screen time for you to know enough about them and they all have one to one fights at the end anyway, but would have been made much more sense in a tournament.
Shang Tsung is supposed to be incredibly intelligent, a master sorcerer, brilliant martial artist and at least before MK Deadly Alliance, purely loyal to Shao Kahn. Outworld have won 9 tournaments in a row, all thanks to Goro, he also has Sub-Zero on his side (one of the best combatants) and Mileena – the emperor’s daughter! The tournament is not far away and apart from Liu Kang and Kung Lao, none of the other fighters are any near good enough to fight in the tournament and weren’t even on their way to Raiden’s temple until he started sending people to kill them. In turn being the reason they get their powers, but not only that, sending his best fighters to kill them, getting their champion Goro killed (more on this later), Mileena killed, Sub-Zero killed (probably come back as Noob Saibot), oh and also getting the general of their army Reiko killed. Honestly this is a terrible plan and it makes the movie incredibly messy.
I will touch on the arcana a little bit, a plot device which didn’t need to be there. They could have explained everything the way the games did, rather than having Jax grow robot arms, Kano have one laser eye and Kung Lao getting a hat. It was a terrible choice which felt like something that would have been written in a 90s video game adaptation because they weren’t confident in the audience. We live in an age that the biggest blockbusters are comic book movies, I think the audience are open to things like magic and fantasy now.
The biggest problem with the story is that it has good setup, but the middle just feels like a children’s monster of the week TV show, with Shang Tsung playing the Skeletor type character. Then the ending has everything we wanted, but feels incredibly rushed and just fizzles out. Not caring about any of the characters – minus Kano, didn’t help with any of the character deaths and then it just suddenly ends with promise of the tournament in the sequel, which is what we wanted from this first movie. Why did we need this prequel? You killed off the majority of the characters, the other ones we didn’t learn a lot about or care about and you had the big fights which could have been in the tournament anyway.
That’s not the whole problem with the story though, no, there’s more – the characters. Raiden repeatedly says he cannot interfere, but does constantly (not a problem does this in the games), but he picks and chooses when and chooses at the worst times. He has all his champions in one location which Shang Tsung is trying to get into, Raiden has the ability to teleport anyone, anywhere, at anytime; but when Shang breaks in, he allows them all to fight and doesn’t save Kung Lao (one of his best fighters) from Shang, just letting him die. I was really excited for the actor to portray him, as I like a lot of his filmography, especially Ichi the Killer, but his portrayal and writing felt incredibly flat to me, making it feel more like a fan film.
The other issue I have with the story of the movie is what the characters do/ what happens to them. Kano was perfect, a complete scumbag making everyone think he’s okay, including the audience, but betraying them- albeit in a stupid way (again Raiden’s fault). Apart from that he was the standout of the movie and stole every single scene. Liu Kang and Kung Lao were also portrayed well, but did not get enough screen time to like them and this moves us onto Kung Lao’s death. Somehow Shang Tsung can just bring him towards him and hold him by his neck, making Kung Lao who has just had a excellent fatality against Nitara look incredibly stupid while Cole Young (more on him in a minute) and Liu Kang are just there watching. This isn’t the worst death though, the worst comes to Goro. He is the champion of Mortal Kombat, one of the best fighters in the franchise and somehow Cole Young manages to kill him in a farm… They wasted such an important character and also made him look like an idiot brute, when Goro is an intelligent prince of his race, which the 1995 movie portrayed far better. What they will do in the actual tournament now in the sequel? Who knows? He, Kung Lao, Raiden and Shang Tsung were my biggest gripes out of al the characters.
Jax and Sonya were portrayed well in my opinion and I actually have no complaints about them. They both had in my opinion the best two fights apart from the final fight. The reason being is Jax vs Reiko I could feel the damage being done and likewise with Sonya and Kano which reminded me of the fight between the Bride and Ellie Driver in Kill Bill Vol. 2. Kabal, Nitara, Reiko, Reptile and Mileena were wasted, some I’m more annoyed about than others. Reptile was well portrayed, just wasn’t in it enough, Kabal I actually enjoyed (one of the better fights), but again not in it enough, Reiko and Nitara were didn’t even utter a word, but damn their deaths were cool, but Mileena was the worst. She was completely wasted, no mention of her being the emperor’s daughter, being Kitana’s sister and unless they bring her back to life, she was just treated as a jobber, which she is definitely not in the MK story.
Cole Young on the other hand, there’s really not much to talk about. He is supposed to be the main character, but there is nothing interesting about his character, the writing for his dialogue was terrible. He was just a generic hero, who could have been emitted and allowed more characterization for the actual MK characters. His powers sucked (literal plot armour) and they didn’t let Lewis Tan show off his great martial arts.
I have already spoken about Shang Tsung’s terrible choices of plans, but his characterization was also poor. Did I expect him to be as good as 1995 Shang Tsung? No, but I expected better than this. He and Raiden were very flat and his performance felt like a generic villain, not one of the more complex and interesting villains in the franchise. Speaking of 1995 Shang Tsung, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa could have played the older version of Shang Tsung in this, he didn’t do any action scenes and mainly talked, but at least we would know the portrayal would have been fantastic.
It’s not all bad though, Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) were both brilliantly portrayed and every scene with them in was excellent. They and Kano definitely are huge positives for this movie and if it wasn’t for them it would be a far worse movie.
Is the movie terrible? No. It is above average, with some nice fight scenes, great highs (the beginning and end fight scene specifically) and good casting for most of the characters. This being said, it is disappointing that the film turned out like this. I do want a sequel, but if they are going to do one, change the writers (if you hire me that would be awesome), and do the tournament! Do it on Shang Tsung’s island, somehow bring Goro and Mileena back to life, actually mention Shao Kahn and if you want Cole Young to be in it, give him some character. I would probably recast a couple of people also… My review score of 6/10 is not what I wanted to give it, but understanding the potential of what an MK movie can be, the next one could easily be a 10/10 with more thought and effort in the writing side of things.
Thanks for reading, sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but after watching this movie I knew I had to. Follow for more blog posts and follow @the12thdimension2019 on Instagram for updates and some drawings I do. Also check out all my other Mortal Kombat content starting with: Mortal Kombat Series Review Part 1.