Mortal Kombat (2021)

“The prophecy is upon us.”

Following an excellent and gory opening grounding the mythos of Mortal Kombat with an origin story through line from beginning to end, the rest of the film never seems to live up to the raw potential of that sequence, instead opting to wax nostalgic for what once was while implementing modern visual updates as a refresh. It looks really good, and some moments are even rousing, but Mortal Kombat seemed too focused on creating the groundworks for a series of future films rather than killing this first reinvention outright. It’s bloody, yet I can’t bring myself to call it bloody good either.

I think it’s obvious why studio heads decided to reveal the first 7 minutes of the movie just before the theater and HBO MAX release; they’re literally the best the film has to offer. Crisply choreographed, cleanly edited, and tell the story within the story. Centuries ago, Bi-Han (Joe Taslim, eventually Sub-Zero) seeks to eliminate Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada, soon to be Scorpion) and his entire bloodline. It’s a battle for control over the Universe between the good and the bad, the Outworld and the Earthrealm, with the purgatory like Netherrealm waffling in between. Mortal Kombat starts out with a near chokehold, only to quickly lose its grip and switch over to dull exposition, taking us from 17th century Japan to modern day America about as fast as you can say, “Get over here.”

The film’s painfully uncharismatic lead is Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an octagon fighter who’s a bit like a jacked Rocky Balboa devoid of personality, and he’s too prone and keen to absorb more blows than he ever lands. But he has the ancient marking of the tournament, and is destined to somehow fulfill a prophecy and save the Earthrealm. His introduction segues into the many good guys and bad guys, although only a few ever get to grow there characters. Jax (Mehcad Brooks) has visceral scenes but no depth. Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) might seem comically underwhelming from the jump, and yet she’s the hardest worker in the film. And Kano (Josh Lawson) brings the comic relief the script is so desperately missing when he’s not on screen. The rest of the 3D people come across as flat as a matte painting drawn by a beginner.

Mortal Kombat feels like watching a strange brew of Space Jam and Bloodsport. It’s brutally violent with a bad guy lineup that’s overhyped and too easily overmatched, honors the history and most importantly never whitewashes the characters, but it tests your might as a viewer with a shallow script that’s ultimately undone by simply horrible editing; I seriously dare you to try to watch the final fight sequence and count how many cuts there are. Mortal Kombat made the distinct decision to opt for physical performers instead of dramatically skilled actors, which makes it all the more baffling to me that so much of the movie depends on being grounded rather than taking flight and kicking ass mono e mono. Hell, director Simon McQuoid’s entire movie is about preventing the title. That sure is a unique choice and it’s safe to say the final blow whiffs more than it ever hits. Building a breathing livelihood out of a franchise vehicle best known for killing doesn’t make much sense if you ask me. Maybe that’s why 2021’s Mortal Kombat doesn’t make much sense either. If looks could kill, this one would. It’s just too bad there’s no brains.

“Fate has better standards than you.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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