There are few certainties in life. Death. Taxes. And the fact that movies based on video games are terrible. Aside from the occasional Pokemon Detective Pikachu, possibly Tomb Raider (the reboot, not the terrible original) and the original Mortal Kombat that is. Yes, Paul W. S. Anderson’s biggest cinematic masterpiece, based on the highly successful fighting video game, might not be the best of the lot, but since its release in 1995, it has set the bar pretty high for adaptations that embrace and build upon its source material.
Which makes Mortal Kombat, the new reboot of the movie franchise based on the recent video games, somewhat of an oddity. Not only does it have to be a good movie, it also has the added pressure of having to outperform the original film – which is essentially the essence of the franchise – a tournament held between different realms, to pick the winner.
Directed by Simon McQuoid in his directorial debut, 2021 Mortal Kombat has the advantage of better special effects and over 30 years of history, video games, comics, and books to tap on. With that, McQuoid has gone ahead to embrace the violence and gore that is a signature of the franchise. The whole basis of the tournament is to protect each realm from being invaded by other realms. Each realm sends its best fighters and goes into combat that only ends when an opponent dies. Thus, Mortal Kombat.
Maintaining the video game’s known lore, where Outworld has won the tournament nine consecutive times, this reboot sees Singapore’s Chin Han take on the role of the vile Shang Tsung, who wants an absolute win and takes things into his own hands and challenges Earthrealm’s fighters in order to invade and take control of the realm once and for all.
Of course, McQuoid has put in his own twist with the addition of franchise newbie Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a stronger focus on the original Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) as well as the feud that stands between him and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). As seen in the trailer, the movie starts off with a Scorpion’s backstory and how his feud with Sub-Zero came to be. It’s a heart-wrenching tale that not only makes sense of Scorpion’s taste for vengeance but also shows off how brutal and cold-hearted (pun intended) Sub-Zero is.
The movie then introduces Cole and his family at one of his boxing matches right before the family of three gets hunted down by Sub-Zero. Cole, bewildered and confused, does whatever he can to save his family. To avoid any spoilers, we can simply say that Cole has a pretty significant role in the feud between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, birthing only the sickest fight scene between the three fighters towards the end of the movie.
And this is where the reboot wins the original, hands down, with the amazing fight sequences that shows you what happens when you put real-life martial artists and action choreographers in the mix. Hong Kong action cinema has had it since the 80s, and Hollywood is just learning.
For many fans, Cole’s addition may be an off-putting element. After all, we’re here to see the OG characters fight to their death and few will ever think that a cool dragon marking on one’s chest is a birthmark. Still, Cole’s addition is a fresh take on explaining the long-standing feud between the two realms and groups of fighters. Lewis Tan hasn’t been in many shows, but we all remember him as the martial arts expert who fought Iron Fist in the Marvel TV series of the same name. Truth be told, many would agree he would have made a much better Danny Rand because he can actually throw a punch.
To a certain extent, Cole also carries a large portion of the movie’s overall story, of which carefully treads along Mortal Kombat 9’s storyline with some differences to fit Cole’s origin tale. There are a number of small details and foreshadowing with regards to Cole’s lineage before things get a little more obvious for the viewers so keep your eyes peeled if you take joy in seeing hints here and there.
Nonetheless, Cole acts as a segue to understanding the world of Mortal Kombat and who each of the contenders are for viewers unfamiliar with the franchise. From the famed Shaolin duo Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), military besties Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) to the feared Shokan Goro who fights for Outworld, fans and new viewers alike will get to meet and learn about the characters alongside Cole as the story progresses.
Some of these fighters are old school gunslingers, whilst others have extra arms and limbs or love a good blood-licking moment – yes, we’re talking about you, Mileena (Sisi Stringer), in what could possibly be the most satisfying finishing move in the film.
Having waited years for this movie, some would embrace the in-depth exploration of each character’s abilities, motivations and personalities and McQuoid plays up the fan service, but where the movie sings is with watching the animated moves gamers know and love, and seeing them transformed onto the big screen. There is no doubt that fans will geek out seeing how each character showcases their unique fighting style, come to their iconic weapons and powers, as well as deliver their celebrated one-liners that have gained widespread popularity.
Are you surprised? I don’t think so.
But we’re not just here to hold a noob’s hands, aren’t we? A big part of Mortal Kombat is the gore, the blood and the action and as the games progressed, brutality and fatalities got more bloody and creative. Brains splattered, bodies contorted and hearts pulled out of chests – you name it, Mortal Kombat’s got it. That said, the movie does not disappoint in fulfilling blood-thirsty fans’ desires to see some of these characters sliced into half and more. Mortal Kombat is going to make you squirm in your seat if you’re squeamish, have you give out a little groan or even smile out of amusement if you’re a little psycho, but that’s why we love Mortal Kombat, right?
The gore isn’t just mindless gore too. Movesets made famous by the games are also seen in the movie – with some minor changes here and there. The actors adapt different martial arts and fighting styles to properly emulate the way their characters move. There is a particular art, care and attention given to every action scene and such effort should not go unnoticed.
Accompanying the gore and action are phenomenal sound effects that resemble the video games. From the crackling of Sub-Zero’s ice to the rattling sounds of Scorpion’s spear, every movement in a fight scene is paired with a sound effect the same way it does in the games. The only classic sound effect missing is the announcer’s voice you hear in the games that says phrases like: “Kano Wins” or “Round Six!”. In the movie, characters become their own announcers. It’s something new, but not odd, given the fact that we’re watching a movie.
Aside from gore and violence, Mortal Kombat prides itself on having multiple characters (including Gods, humans and unsettling-looking species) and multiple realms that co-exist. In the lore, there’s Earthrealm, Outworld, Netherrealm (otherwise known as hell), Heaven, Dreamrealm and more. Though the Mortal Kombat movie focuses largely on the first two, with brief glimpses of the Netherrealm, the film successfully transports viewers from the familiar world we live in into this treacherous world, allowing viewers to get fully sucked in and engaged with the story.
This is achieved through great world building to bring the fictional video game world to life. Video game adaptations have always been a hit or miss and it’s obvious that McQuoid has spent a lot of time re-creating the video game experience onto the silver screens. Shooting the film in various locations within Australia, viewers are transported to scorching desserts, dried up creeks and raging waterfalls to create the look and feel of being in Outworld or Raiden’s temple and more. Unfortunately, Raiden’s temple doesn’t reside in the clouds like the games, but real-location shooting minimises the need for CGI and greenscreen, so we’ll take looking authentic over a potential botched cloud-city any day.
Adding on to that, the costumes in Mortal Kombat were on point, with Kung Lao’s, Sub-Zero’s and Scorpion’s costumes taking the top spots. Sub-Zero and Scorpion both have incredibly intricate designs on their face masks and shoulder armours. The details on both their costumes, whilst may not be an exact replica, were a close nod to the original costume.
On the other hand, the most impressive bit to Kung Lao’s costume was his hat. His hat looked legit, heavy and deadly – as it should. Whist viewers unfortunately don’t get a good long look at the hat, the moments where Kung Lao made use of his hat had the same impact as when watching Captain America use his shield. Costumes may be a small thing to some viewers, but any fan would know if a costume looks like a last minute job, or if it had time put into creating it. Of course, every character has numerous costume variances (given the franchise’s 30 year history), but the fact that the characters did not look cheap or like cosplay outfits was a relief.
All in all, Mortal Kombat is a joy to watch for fans and players of the game. The new character introduction didn’t impact the experience of viewing the movie as much as we thought and at certain junctures, even served as the film’s strong points. Was it necessary? No. But it wouldn’t and shouldn’t be a deterrence.
As a movie based on the popular video game, Mortal Kombat effectively brings the game’s world onto the silver screen with a lot of care and attention to detail. The characterisation and portrayal of the beloved fighters are close enough to their game counterparts, with outfits and fighting styles being almost identical to the game. The visuals, sound effects, gore and action are exactly what fans have been looking for since the original 1995 film and more.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Video game adaptations have always been a hit or miss and Mortal Kombat is a must-watch hit for the gore and the action. Flawless Victory… for the Mortal Kombat fans!
Story - 7/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10