MORTAL KOMBAT Review; "A Painfully Bad Plot Proves To Be A Fatality For [The] Movie"
Mortal Kombat is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, but how does it fare against other video game adaptations? Well, while the fight scenes are awesome, everything else isn't quite so memorable...
With blockbusters few and far between in the first half of 2021, it's easy to see why movies that might have otherwise been overlooked are now getting so much attention. Mortal Kombat may be one of them, but with a legion of passionate fans rooting for it thanks to the hit video game series, it's easy enough to understand why there's such a lot of excitement for this live-action adaptation. Director Simon McQuoid certainly manages to include plenty of references those fans will appreciate, but if you're looking for anything more than a few memorable Easter Eggs and (mostly) excellent fight scenes, you're likely to be disappointed.
We've seen many video game movies struggle in terms of plot, and Mortal Kombat is no different. Revolving around newly created character Cole Young (Lewis Tan), we follow his journey into this crazy world as he learns that a birthmark is, in fact, the doorway to his destiny. Unfortunately, he feels very much like a studio mandated addition to the movie in order to give the audience a proxy so that they can be introduced to this world alongside him. It doesn't do a good job of that, and besides, this is Mortal Kombat: it's about fighters entering into a tournament for their respective homeworlds, and a washed-up MMA fighter - who's constantly overpowered and pretty much useless until the final battle - isn't necessary to get us invested in those characters or the story, especially when his presence only serves to slow thing down. Had the movie featured a stronger lead, then perhaps the concept would have worked a little better, but we're never offered a compelling reason to care about Cole, his family, or his place in this world. Throw in a bloated second act that revolves around a number of characters attempting to awaken their arcana - for Kano, that boils down to a painfully unfunny foul-mouthed tirade about egg rolls - and this isn't a movie it's easy to get invested in.
Luckily, those of you who are just here for the fights have lots to get stuck into. While a few of them are dampened somewhat by unimaginative, bland surroundings (a warehouse, nondescript farm, and trailer), those that embrace the game's crazy visuals are a blast to watch. The choreography and stunt work is solid, though not to the point where the majority of what we see here is any more impressive than other popular fighting movies. The Fatalities are where those really shine, though, and while one too many of them have been spoiled in the trailers, there are some bloody and gratuitous death scenes that land nicely. Yes, it's a little cheesy that the score swells when a character like Liu Kang reels off a familiar line from the games, but for fans, that's going to be among their favourite moments, and rightfully so. It's when the movie embraces that side of things that it's arguably at its best.
The cast is a mixed bag; Tan can fight, but lacks charisma, leaving us with few reasons to even want to root for him. He's certainly a capable enough actor, but if the idea was to make an original Mortal Kombat fighter to launch a series of movies around, we can't help but wonder what the studio thought was wrong with the rest of the franchise's iconic leads. There are lots of hit-and-miss performances, and not a great one to be found, but it would be unfair to call this a bad ensemble. Mehcad Brooks (Jax), Josh Lawson (Kano), and Jessica McNamee (Sonya Blade) are clearly having fun with what they're working with, while we'd have killed to see more of Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion.
The visual effects are hard to fault, and Benjamin Wallfisch's score helps ensure many of those action scenes feel like the games come to life. Cinematographer Germain McMicking's work doesn't match the exciting visuals, though, with too many of the fights set in murky, dark surroundings (making them a little too difficult to follow at times).
Had Mortal Kombat just thrown us into the midst of a fighting tournament without a stereotypical lead and familiar story, it likely would have been considerably better. Warner Bros., clearly worried about alienating regular moviegoers with a premise like that, may have underestimated that people would just enjoy seeing some thrilling fights in fantastical surroundings while losing themselves in who would ultimately emerge the victor. There's something to be said for this movie taking a more ambitious approach with world-ending stakes, but those are never explained well enough to really get us invested. By trying to do too much in a short amount of time, this movie feels like too unsatisfying an experience for hardcore fans, and too middle-of-the-road to create any new ones.
While Mortal Kombat certainly isn't "Game Over" for the iconic franchise, a painfully bad plot proves to be a "Fatality" for a movie that features some otherwise brutal and excellent fight scenes. If you're only here for those, add another star.