Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Simon McQuoid
Writers: Greg Russo, Sean Catherine Derek, David Callaham, Drew McWeeny, Scott Swan
Actors: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Huang, Ng Chin Han, Daniel Nelson, Sisi Stringer
By Mique Watson
The year 1995 saw the first attempt at adapting this uber-violent game for the silver screen, yielding middling results. Among the many gripes fans had had, chief among them was the complete absence of “fatalities”. Fatalities being the exaggerated finishing moves unique to each character; one character creatively rips another character apart after having defeated them, and so on. This “Mortal Kombat” (2021), which happens to be rated a hard R, was clearly a film made by and for the fans; all this is evident from start to finish.
Just like the game of which this is based on, an inter-dimensional tournament periodically happens. In it, the greatest and most noble warriors of Earthrealm (or, simply, Earth) compete to the death against the forces of Outworld, headed by Shang Tsung (Ng Chin Han). Outworld has won the previous nine tournaments, and winning a 10th one would secure their dominion over Earthrealm.
Shan Tsung, who apparently has a complete and utter disregard for concepts like rules and fairness has decided to send his minions (among whom contain fan favorites like Sub Zero, Kabal, and Mileena; Joe Taslim, Daniel Nelson and Sisi Stringer) to take out Earthrealm’s competitors before the tournament begins. Most impressive amongst his minions is undoubtedly Sub Zero; he comes off as a horror movie character–fractals of ice signify his entrance and elicit a palpable sense of dread.
The first two acts of the film introduce us to this lore, along with the newest addition to the cast, MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan). We follow Young as he pursues the other champions of Earthrealm in order to train in Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple and combat–or should, I say Kombat!–that seek their demise. Best among them is Josh Lawson’s Kano; much of the film’s enjoyment is undoubtedly attributed to him–he is Kano embodied.
Contrary to a vast majority of the opinions I’ve read, I actually liked the inclusion of a new character. Young’s character allowed us to inject ourselves into the shoes of someone who is so far-removed from the lore and logic of the world this game–and by extension, film–operates in. Granted, there is a plethora of existing characters that could’ve been chosen, yet the character of Cole allows us to elide our experiences alongside a person who represents us when we pick up the controller. Entering the world of Mortal Kombat, to me at least, is a cathartic, escapist experience. Cole’s quest for glory mirrors our quest for victory as we play as these characters; his desires are manifestations of ours as we play the game.
Now we should probably get to the selling point of the film: the over-the-top violence. Yes, I can gladly confirm that it is here. Living, breathing, fight scenes that are chock-full of easter eggs to the games, and fighting moves unique to the characters. And yes, the fatalities happen. Grading on the scale of blood and guts and viscera: someone gets slashed clean in half with Kung Lao’s (Max Huang) hat, a heart gets ripped out of a chest, a character gets savagely disemboweled, another characters arms are frozen solid then torn off, et cetera.
This viscera is prefaced by a stunning, and admittedly emotional opening ten minutes. Hiroyuki Sanada’s portrayal of Scorpion, and his fantastic ability to deliver a fight scene, lays the groundwork for the rest of the film. The fight scenes that follow are, however, a mixed bag. Some quick, frantic editing does get in the way of the choreography; editing and copious amounts of CGI come off as a mechanism to hide the lack of actual fighting happening at times, if anything else.
Cheesy and bloody stuff aside, the scope of the film is, admittedly, much larger than I had thought it was going to be. Outworld was mostly hidden from the trailers, and it’s appearance here promises much of what the enormity of the rest of the world would have, should this film earn itself a sequel (fingers crossed!). Although the fighting tournament here feels more like an overture to something greater–and the end result isn’t quite a flawless victory–this Mortal Kombat is far from a fatality.