Sequels, reboots, and remakes are just par for the course now in the movie industry. In trying to be an updated version of the campy and low-budget (but ultimately endearing) 1995 videogame movie of the same name, the 2021 New Line/Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat lacks the charm and personality of its predecessor.
Simon McQuoid’s movie isn’t without its strengths and it has performed pretty well at the box office (all things considered) to the tune of about $51-million globally. The fight choreography was a big improvement, at least for the instances where hand-to-hand techniques led the way. The increased emphasis on lethality and bloodiness was, undoubtedly, to mimic the ultra-violence of the videogame but the CGI bloodbath looked a bit off. The majority of the other visual effects were better than I was led to believe, even though the vast majority of that is dedicated to Sub-Zero’s ice powers. I doubt it’s going to win any VFX awards, but it served its purpose.
With minimal exceptions, the biggest hindrances are its characters and story. I wasn’t expecting much in that department but, aside from the Sub-Zero/Scorpion rivalry that gets some backstory, it’s kinda boring despite the action. That’s not a good sign.
Casting Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion was the kind of decision that made me interested, but then burying him in the background for the vast majority of the movie is the kind of decision that makes me wonder why they brought him on in the first place. He bookends the movie with Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero, but it’s the 90 minutes between that where the movie struggles.
Rather than basing the movie around the best actor in the cast and playing into Japanese history, built in the first 10-minutes, the screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham decided to center the story around Lewis Tan’s character, Cole Young. As a casual fan of the game, I didn’t know who the heck this character was and that’s because he was created just for the sake of this convoluted story. Opting for a fairly bland character who’s a washed-up MMA fighter just for the sake of realism was a mistake in a fictional world where realism doesn’t hold any value anyway. Tan isn’t to blame, he does what he can with the character but there’s nothing to pull from.
With a robust roster full of unique and interesting characters, the writers didn’t seem to understand most of them. I never thought Kano was going to be my favorite character, but Josh Lawson killed the role and it’s the only character in the whole movie with any personality. Everyone else (besides Sub-Zero and Scorpion) just had superficial character designs with almost nothing in the way of motivation. Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Sonya, Jax, and Raiden are mostly just boring.
While the original movie is definitely cheesy and the acting still left a lot to be desired, Robin Shou (Liu Kang), Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage), and Bridget Wilson (Sonya Blade) had good chemistry between them and enough background foundation to make me care about their collective and individual story angles. Weird as he was, even Christopher Lambert’s Raiden was much better than this new version of the character (played by Tadanobu Asano) and Chin Han offered almost nothing as Shang Tsung. The new versions of Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Sonya, Jax, and Raiden are mostly just boring. The same goes for the bad guys. Sub-Zero barely even says anything and Talsim is more commanding on-screen than the rest of the villains combined in the 2021 version.
All in all, what can you really expect? There were some cool moments but the storytelling was more focused on those rather than giving the audience something worth investing in, in order to tie it all together.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the games and the original movies, you should find something to enjoy.