Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Blowing the dust off my review writing abilities…

Who’d have thought Cinema Cocoa would come back with a review of the Mortal Kombat remake, of all things?

Two realms, Earthrealm and Savagerealm, also known as Outworld, are in a perpetual battle for dominance in a violent tournament called Mortal Kombat. The Outworld inhabitants need only one more win to spell doom for all life on Earth, and it falls to a ragtag team to save us all.

1995’s Mortal Kombat starring Christopher Lambert as the lightning lord Raiden, depending who you talk to, is either the ultimate ’90s schlock or a terrible movie. It was immensely cheesy and a whole lot of ridiculous fun, and would frequently enter the top 5s of anyone rating “video game adaptations in film”. Mostly because Mortal Kombat is a tournament fighter; you aren’t watching an adaptation for the story.
Of course, there’s also the D.O.A film adaptation… We don’t talk about that. That’s an example of a bad tournament fighter adaptation!

But Mortal Kombat is one of the oldest video game franchises, up there with DOOM, so a remake/reboot movie was always on the cards. The 1995 movie still having fans to this day only reinforced the idea.
It is safe to say that the 2021 Mortal Kombat is up there in the higher tiers of video game adaptations. Which is impressive, given this is the debut for director Simon McQuoid!

We follow the perspective of audience surrogate and original character for the movie, Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan) who struggles in the kickboxing ring, but is also sporting a rather distinct “birthmark”. When two secret operatives rescue him from a villain who has total control over ice, he discovers he has a lineage within the Mortal Kombat tournament.
The film is rapid-fire, running under two hours, it does little to pause for breath. We are introduced to several characters, mostly fan favourites such as Kano, Sonya Blade, Raiden, and Sub-Zero, but a host of other characters. It very quickly establishes certain characters’ origin stories, which works well within the film’s more grounded first half, especially for Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya (Jessica McNamee) and in some respects the first half is all the stronger for it.

Unusually, this film does not directly involve a tournament. Chief villain, Shang Tsung (Chin Han) cheats the tournament, sending Sub-Zero and other monstrosities to Earth in a bid to wipe out the competition before they even have their powers. Their powers are something they must unlock, and really are a roulette wheel of possibilities (except for Cole Young, his power is of course thematic to him.) This was somewhat refreshing. The film manages, again at least for the first half, write its characters into one-on-one fights reasonably well, without the need of a fantastical fighting tournament. These fights are varied: from little brawls, incredibly bloody fights, to all out monster battles. This makes for a lot of surprises and a good sense of escalation in levels of gore. Most of the characters get to do signature moves from the game, with only one or two exceptions.
The effects and costumes are pretty decent too. The ice effects from Sub-Zero are often beautifully rendered and have a real physical weight to them. The film only starts to overstep its bounds when introducing truly monstrous characters.

The writing is passable. Unlike the schlocky ham-and-cheese fest of the 1995 film, this film is a little more casual with its writing. Except for Kano (played by Josh Lawson) who spits out pop-culture references a mile-a-minute, so quickly you aren’t given time to groan. But it is Kano.
Perhaps the film’s finer flaws lie in editing choices, as well as a rather rushed ending. While the fight sequences are good, there are occasions when the editing feels choppy and segmented. For example a lead character is seen about to be crushed by falling debris in a wide shot, only for us to cut away to action elsewhere. We don’t return to the rubble until some time later.
Also the film’s lead character, Cole, is quite bland as a character. Admittedly it is clear the screenwriters didn’t want to subjugate a roster character from the game into an audience surrogate, but for much of the film he is quite ineffective. All of the charisma and action is around the other characters. This is something that a sequel can make up for.

Overall, the remake of Mortal Kombat was quite fun! It may not win over diehard fans of the 1995 film, which has become something of a meme in itself now, but this film definitely stands up on its own. But it has good casting, good effects, a high amount of gore and isn’t ridiculously cheesy.
Recommendations lie purely on your reaction to the name; you know exactly what this is, and you won’t be disappointed.

Additional Marshmallows: Maybe half a cup generous. But hey, it has been a long time since there’s been a review!

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