Video game movies SUCK (most of the time).
Video games are one of those tricky mediums to adapt to film because 9 times out of 10, the enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come from what the game is about, but rather the user interaction that comes with it. You think anyone cares about the story of Mario Brothers? No, they love the feel of jumping on enemies heads and that giddiness you feel when you hear that 1-Up chime. Of course, there are exceptions. Games like Bioshock, Uncharted and The Last of Us are rare breeds in the sense that equal time is put into the story as well as the gameplay. These games are purposefully cinematic, and while we have yet to see how games like these translate to the silver screen, the building blocks are at least there to work with.
Then you have a game like Mortal Kombat. It throws you into a world where ninjas, cyborgs, monsters and an asshole actor with his own name tattoo’d on his chest beat the ever loving piss out of one another. The game actually boasts a fairly expansive lore, a story that was built upon and rewritten countless times in its near 30 year history. While the crazy cast of characters and backstories are certainly a draw, they aren’t what put MK on the map. That would be the game’s over the top violence and gore. It all started with a ninja ripping off an opponent’s head, spinal chord and all, the sight of which was so graphic at the time that the actual government had to step in and change the way video games were rated and distributed. Since then the violence has only gotten more outrageous and gruesome. While the world of Mortal Kombat has been fleshed out and expanded upon, its the creative ways to absolutely maim a person that have given the series its identiy.
This is what the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie was severely lacking in. While it gave us campy fun and one of the best techno dance songs of all time, the film lacked the series’s trademark blood and gore in order to stick with a PG-13 rating so the film could reach the widest audience possible. Back then the very sight of a man uppercutting someone’s head clean from their shoulders was too much for the fragile sensibilities of the American public. Cut to now, and we’re bit more desensitized to violence than we probably should be. This was great news for Mortal Kombat, however, as it seems the time had come to give the world a Mortal Kombat movie with the proper blood and guts it was known for.
By comparison, the 2021 Mortal Kombat film absolutely delivers on those fronts. The violence doesn’t hold back, and the film isn’t afraid to spray an unrealistic amount of blood your way. Yet when the film isn’t focused on the fighting, the story really begins to pull the film down. While the characters are visually perfect in their representations of these classic fighter, the film does little to make them compelling or interesting. Like the video game series itself, its a very mixed bag here.
Our story follows a cage fighter named Cole Young, an original character to the world of MK who finds himself entangled in a supernatural world between gods and monsters. Cole, along with a ragtag group of chosen fighters, must band together and unlock their true potential to defeat a terrifying threat from Outworld, a dimension looking to overtake Earth, or Earthrealm. Cole is our vessel to have exposition, story and history dumped on us so we can follow along with the craziness. While not an outright bad character, there’s nothing too special about his motivations or personality. He’s a family man that is willing to die for his wife and daughter, which is a character trope that has more than run its course. His progression from human punching bag to deadly warrior leads to some cool fight scenes, but never really feels like an earned character arc.
Alongside Cole are the recognizable characters from Mortal Kombat’s catalog. There’s Sonya Blade and Jax, two special forces soldiers who have been seeking out the “chosen” that are set to do battle in a prophetic tournament. Liu Kang and Kung Lao are two monks versed in the ways of fighting that are enlisted to train the unprepared by Lord Raiden, a thunder god who never feels like he’s as powerful as he should be (just like the games, no less). And of course there’s Kano, a loudmouth, asshole Aussie who ended up being my favorite character. While every other character in the film is stoic and either speaks in exposition or overtly dramatic lines, Kano is swearing up and storm and being a downright douche to everyone in his vicinity. Yet, I love him for it. Maybe his character isn’t super interesting, but he’s at least enjoyable to watch. Our villains are a group of baddies from Mortal Kombat’s roster, led by the sorcerer Shang Tsung. While these characters are practically perfect in terms of appearance and mannerisms, they are painfully one-note. That’s a good way to sum up most of the characters in the film. Their relationships don’t feel genuine and their motives aren’t always clear or believable. These are fighting game characters of course, but if their going to make their jump to film I’d like them to have more to their character than just punching and kicking.
Then we have the two characters who seem to swap roles as poster child for the series, the ninjas Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Their hate for one another has been a focal point in Mortal Kombat’s story for decades now, and all of their hatred and resentment towards each other is played out on screen here. Or…it kind of it. We open to Sub-Zero killing Scorpion’s family before finally killing him, setting in motion a prophecy that eventually ties into Cole Young. Sub-Zero continues to torture the characters in the present day until Scorpion makes his vengeful return in the climax of the film. These two characters have the most apparent history between one another, yet their story is not the focal point of the film despite being the most interesting. I think I would’ve like the focus to be on them, as the film is a bit too overcrowded, having too many characters to focus on and flesh out.
The film throws all these characters at you with little to no backstory or relevance. If you’re a fan of the series, its easy to identify these characters personalities, motives and allegiances. Yet, if you aren’t as familiar with this world, you may have a hard time figuring out exactly what the bigger meaning of all this is. The film constantly references a great tournament to decide the fate of the world, but we never get to learn more outside of its spoken importance. Hell, the tournament doesn’t even happen in the movie. Instead the film aims for a team-up of iconic characters akin to The Avengers or Justice League, yet never devotes enough time to making them characters worth caring about. The film could have possibly benefited from narrowing down its central focus, allowing it to at least nail down one character with meaning rather than several characters with not enough given time to develop.
I know we’re all here for the fighting, but my God is the writing here pretty rough. Like I said before, there’s a lot of exposition dumping, and when the characters aren’t explaining the entire history of the world to one another, their exchanging some laughably bad dialogue. Some of the lines are direct references to the games, like the iconic “FATALITY” or “FLAWLESS VICTORY”. While fans are for sure going to recognize these lines, they still come off forced and awkward, and this is coming from a fan of the series. It teeters the line between goofy and silly, and I’m not entirely sure where the script was trying to land. While a lot of the humor in the 1995 film was unintentional, the 2021 film struggles to keep a consistent tone. I swear I’ve heard better writing in the stories from the most recent video games. So, if the writing is going to be the film’s weak points, the fight scenes will make it all worth it, right?
Well, kind of. Like I said earlier, the film really doesn’t hold back on its violence and gore. Our opening scene sees ninjas stabbed and gutted in gloriously gross fashion. The film even goes out of its way to recreate several iconic fatalities, match-ending moves from the games that tend to be insanely gross and creative. We see someone get buzzsawed in half by a razor-brimmed hat and another poor soul get disintegrated by a dragon made of fire. These are apparent love letters to the series and are fantastic to see play out. However, not all of the fight scenes are well presented or creative. There are two pivotal fights that are shot in the dark, making it incredibly hard to see what’s happening. Granted, I watched this on my television during the day, so those of you who choose to see it in theaters may have better results. Still, it felt like the film was trying to hide some of its shortcomings in its choreography or special effects. While theres a few fights that actively make use of each character’s abilities and fighting styles, some of them are just simple punching and kicking without much visual flair or intensity.
Mortal Kombat 2021 is the best representation of the series on film so far, with much of the bloody fun fans have come to love. However, it’s unable to generate a compelling or interesting story that truly captures the potential of the series. Feeling less like a journey and more of a stepping stone towards something bigger, the film is at least packed with nods to the video games that fans are sure to get a kick out of. If you aren’t familiar with this world however, you may still find some enjoyment in its fun action sequences and its gnarly blood and guts. As a fan, I’m hoping the series can find its footing in the future and create a truly epic theatrical experience that lives up to the history of the franchise.
For a video game adaptation, I’d say this is a victory, but it’s far from flawless.
GET OVER HERE…and give this spicy cocktail a try! Inspired by the yellow clad ninja famous for ripping his face off and breathing fire from his skeleton mouth, this cocktail is a unique blend of pineapple, tequila and a secret ingredient: Carolina Reaper rum. Thanks to the wonderfully insane minds over at Raleigh Rum Company, this cocktail is spiked with just a dash of rum infused with the world’s hottest pepper. With a delicate balance of fruit and heat, the Scorpion is a one of a kind cocktail who’s ingredients may be hard to find for some. If you don’t have access to Raleigh Rum Company in your area, substitute with a white rum and then muddle your spicy pepper of choice in with it. We recommend using jalepneos, but you should follow your heart. That is, until Kano rips it out.
- 2oz pineapple juice
- 1oz tequila
- 1/4oz Carolina Reaper rum (or a white rum with a few jalepeno slices muddled inside)
- 1/4oz lime juice
- 1oz prosecco
- Garnish: Dried chili pepper
- Add all ingredients (except prosecco) to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Top with prosecco and stir gently.
- Strain into a chilled glass.
- Garnish with a dried chili pepper.