I was a teenager when the first Mortal Kombat was released in theatres. I’d been playing the games since their release and eagerly went to see it with my friend, looking forward to seeing my favourite characters on the big screen. While some of the acting was very sub-par and it devolved into cheesiness at times, overall it was pretty great.
And so it was that, after seeing a few previews for this upcoming instalment, I was excited. It looked gritty, dark and everything we want to see from Mortal Kombat.
Now, a disclaimer before we begin. I’m going to be reviewing this from the perspective of someone who knows the franchise well (I’m still playing MK11 on my daughter’s Nintendo Switch) and has an idea of what’s going on. Let’s face it, you’re only going to a Mortal Kombat movie if you know what it’s all about already, so I’m not going to review it for people who are going in cold.
Sadly, there are so many problems with this movie that I’m not sure where to begin. How about the casting? The original Mortal Kombat had pretty great casting across the board, although I’ll caveat that with Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade wasn’t quite there in her ability to fight, and Talisa Soto as Kitana delivered her lines like she was reading from a teleprompter.
Christopher Lamber, Linden Ashby, Robin Shou though? They were fantastic. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa was so good as Shang Tsung that they even modeled the game character after him in later instalments. The dialogue, while cheesy at times, was actually one of the strong points of the movie along with the chemistry of the actors.
If I could sum up the casting in the latest venture, however, I’d use one word: wooden. Apart from Hiroyuki Sanada who was criminally underused as Scorpion, Josh Lawson as Kano (who really chewed the scenery and did a great job of it) and Max Huang as Kung Lao, the rest have as much charisma and emotion as a plank of 4x4.
Some of the cast aren’t even used. Mileena, a fan favourite of the series, has I think two lines. She’s literally just a disposable villain, with none of her origin or backstory explored. They don’t even have Kitana to play her off against. Goro, who was so well used in the original, is completely wasted in this instalment. Far from being the terrifying monster that he should be, he gets flat out killed inside of a few minutes by the main character who, as we’ve already been shown at the start, has turned into a chump.
This leads into another problem: it doesn’t really feel like anything much is at stake. The original movie laid out what was happening and why, but the delivery of it by the actors made you feel the importance and urgency from both sides of winning this particular tournament. In this instalment, you get half the explanation with none of the charisma or urgency of what’s happening.
The pacing is probably my biggest issue. Walking out afterwards, I felt as though I’d somehow missed a third of the movie, like it had been removed or something. There is no build up to anything, the tournament doesn’t even happen and the ease of which everything is resolved at the end left me scratching my head at what was basically a waste of a couple of hours.
Now, going into a film like Mortal Kombat, you expect a certain level of cheesiness. It comes with the territory when you’re trying to adapt a video game into film. But they went to a whole new level with their ridiculous creation of “arcana,” which is basically each characters special ability. It just added an unnecessary level of silliness to something that already borders on ridiculous.
They had no problem with Sub-Zero having his cryo powers without explanation, so why the need to concoct some ridiculous concept to explain all the others?
Worst of all, the fight scenes really weren’t that great. I mean, the original came out in 1995 — when martial arts in western films were barely beginning to find their feet. Yet the majority of the fighting still holds up pretty well by today’s standards. Fluid, well choreographed and importantly, helped to propel the story. In 2021 I’d expect a hell of a lot better, yet we don’t get it. The fight scenes are just…ok, I guess?
In a genre that’s literally about fighting, that’s an unforgivable sin.
Finally, let’s talk about the lead. What a mistake. Having a lead character that isn’t even part of the franchise not only changed the story for the worse, but the guy playing him didn’t have the acting chops to carry it. His “arcana” was also lame as hell and pretty much made no sense — even in the context of Mortal Kombat.
Josh Lawson’s portrayal of Kano does deserve a paragraph of its own. In short, it’s utterly brilliant. Lawson knew what he was getting into and really hammed it up. His Kano was over the top, rude and crude as hell. My friend and I laughed through his entire performance and agreed that if he wasn’t in it, we wouldn’t have lasted the full movie. That goes also for Kabal. The pair of them could have been so much greater…
Before I finish, I want to touch on one other thing: ridiculous fan service. Look, just because you’re creating a movie based on a video game, it doesn’t mean you need to cram everything in there. Just because there are lines like fatality, or flawless victory, it doesn’t mean you need to include it in the movie. You don’t need to include every special move. Focus on making a good movie — there’s more than enough story there to do it with.
Whichever way you slice it, this is just a great big bunch of disappointment. The story and pacing are a mess, the casting is atrocious, the acting is wooden and you don’t feel any kind of urgency or sense of emotion with anything. In short, it’s utterly boring. I was expecting it to be better than the original, but it’s considerably worse. It doesn’t quite hit the depths of Mortal Kombat: Annhilation, but considering that is literally one of the worst movies in the history of cinema, that’s nothing to be proud of.
Bottom line: whether you’re seeing it for the story, the characters or the fight scenes, you’re going to come away unsatisfied. Save your money, catch it on Netflix.