How do you aggravate an entire generation of video game fans? How do you infuriate an entire generation of movie fans who “just want more”? The answer is: you take an upcoming director with a passion for the video game and give him money, assets, and one damn good Judo player. Then you mix them into a bowl, pour into an oven-safe pan, and bake it for however many degrees Celsius Scorpion’s breath is after exiting the Netherrealm. Get ready to test your might and dive into this spoiler-filled review of Mortal Kombat (2021).
I’ll start with the obvious here because too many fans of the games are undoubtedly already bitching about Cole Young. Director Simon McQuoid and writer Greg Russo introduced a brand new character in Cole Young as the main protagonist and driving force behind the story. Lewis Tan played the character tremendously and it was just enough “hero” to pass as believable that he wasn’t the only chosen one. He is a terrific fighter and great addition to the Mortal Kombat lore.
Sonya Blade/Jax Briggs
These two characters were pretty similar to every iteration of the two that we’ve seen. Both are Special Forces and both have a fond admiration for the other. They’re partners as always and they would die for the other in a heartbeat. It was nice to finally see Sonya get some big-screen powers this time around. For many fans who weren’t heavily into the games, they probably didn’t even know she had powers! Jax loses his arms in every version of Mortal Kombat. We saw from the trailer that Sub-Zero freezes Jax’s arms and destroys them. This was a refreshing take on the typical origin story for Jax. Jessica McNamee and Mehcad Brooks played exceptional roles in this film.
Could there have been a more perfect person to play Sub-Zero other than Joe Taslim? Hell no. He was spectacular as our favorite frozen ninja. His persona on screen was so dominating and intimidating that it stole the spotlight from the other characters in the best way possible. The Kasting of Joe, was a flawless victory.
Hiroyuki Sanada is another great actor and perfect for his role. He’s an actual swordsman and his Japanese heritage was proudly showcased within Scorpion’s armor. The opening scene depicts Hanzo Hasashi as a fierce warrior in Japan. He was a loving father, husband, and leader within the Shirai Ryu before Bi-Han and the Lin Kuei assassinated them all. Sanada brought a ton of experience and emotion to this scene and it played out beautifully.
Kung Lao/Liu Kang
They are the fiercest of monks and the closest of friends. Ludi Lin and Max Huang did well as Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Their powers were on point with the games and they without a doubt looked exactly like their characters. They are key characters in Mortal Kombat and it will be very interesting to see what happens to Kung Lao next.
Lord Raiden/Shang Tsung
For the wild 45 seconds that we actually saw Lord Raiden, I actually enjoyed him. Tadanobu Asano didn’t have to do much other than have a bellowing voice and bright eyes, but it convinced me. Shang Tsung on the other hand was a giant disappointment. Chin Han is a great actor but he looks way too “nice” to play the terrifying soul-stealing sorcerer that is Shang Tsung. The costume looked great and the special effects during his one soul-stealing scene were pretty cool. However, I couldn’t help but imagine Lau in The Dark Knight cowering in the corner as Batman came to steal him away. They could have done more to make Shang Tsung look more intense.
Kabal was a nice surprise and quite unexpected from anyone who didn’t watch the trailer frame by frame. It must have been a nod to Kabal’s speed powers to only show him in the trailer for a brief moment. His costume was great and Daniel Nelson was pretty funny under that respirator. Mileena was a bit of a surprise as well. Every fan who watched the trailer complained that Mileena’s monster-mouth wasn’t nearly as grotesque as it should have been. Shortly before her death, she expanded her fangs like a Reaper from Blade 2 and satisfied all the naysayers.
Lastly, the uncrowned star of the show: Kano. Josh Lawson brought comedic brilliance to the role and I absolutely loved it! He looked the part, he acted the part well, and he had the swagger that Kano has throughout the Mortal Kombat lore.
The fighting in this film was wonderfully choreographed, especially the scenes with Joe Taslim. The combination of hand fighting and weaponry was a perfect blend of all things that make Mortal Kombat fighting great. Personally, I could have done without the unnecessary wire stunts like Sonya spinning into the frame or flying while catching a knife to stab Reptile. However, Hollywood has to Hollywood, right?
The fatalities were gross and awesome! Jax smashes Reiko’s head like the watermelon that YouTube girl squeezes with her abnormally strong thighs. Kung Lao uses his hat-saw to split Nitara right down the middle, just like one of his signature moves from the most recent reboots of the Mortal Kombat games. Prince Goro saw an early exit too as Cole discovered his powers and sliced Goro open! The fighting and gore was well done and not over the top as some fans hoped it would be.
Outworld has won nine straight Mortal Kombat tournaments in pursuit of their tenth victory over Earthrealm. If they do this, they get to invade Earthrealm with the permission of the Elder Gods and therefore control Earth forever. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are mortal enemies dating back to the feud between the Shirai Ryu and the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero is being used as a weapon by Shang Tsung to ensure their tenth victory before the tournament even gets started. Cole Young is an MMA fighter among those branded and chosen to defend Earthrealm.
Sonya Blade and Jax Briggs are pursuing the other champions in order to band together in a group effort against Outworld. Kung Lao and Liu Kang are warriors in the servitude of Lord Raiden. Overall, the story hasn’t changed too much and that’s ok. The small details like the champions being chosen with dragon tattoos and discovering their powers in times of great emotion are what really separates this story from the other film and the entire game series.
Mortal Kombat Sequels?
Absolutely! Sub-Zero’s death paves the way for Bi-Han to return as Noob Saibot, my personal favorite Mortal Kombat character of all time. Without question, the next film will see Shang Tsung return to Outworld and a very unhappy Emperor, Shao Kahn. We’ll also likely see Princess Kitana and Night Wolf, who were both hinted at in this first film. The next film will be the full-blown invasion of Outworld into Earthrealm and the terrifying debut of the Emperor. I only hope they find an actor who’s a little more intimidating for the role than the Shang Tsung we received in this film.
I would give this film an 8/10 and I thoroughly enjoyed most of the characters, the plot, and the action sequences. I listed the slight changes I would have made above but otherwise, I think this was a top-notch film. The issue with films like these is they cannot please everyone. Some fans are upset that it isn’t totally true to the games. For example, Quan Chi was missing from this film and his mind control/impersonation of Bi-Han. Some fans wanted this to be bloodier than it was. Lastly, some casual film fans will be upset that there was more storytelling than action scenes. Everyone needs to realize that this was the first in, hopefully, a newly rebooted franchise of films. They could not get away with everything just yet.