How Does It Compare To Its Predecessors?
It used to be a joke: video game movies are always terrible. Sure, there were a couple of gems in the dirt – Tomb Raider, Detective Pikachu, and of course, the so-bad-it’s-good Uwe Boll films. But they were far outnumbered by the forgettable and the downright awful, including the last try at a Mortal Kombat film. Eventually the joke just wasn’t funny anymore. If you ask around, some might say Sonic the Hedgehog was fine, but I never bothered to check it out, and no one’s gone out of their way to recommend it to me since. As a result, I’m forced to say that 2021’s Mortal Kombat is the best video game movie ever made.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not great. But I actually enjoyed myself from start to finish, and that is a hell of a milestone. A common explanation for why video games make for poor movies is that video games are interactive by nature, whereas the role of a moviegoer is passive (though personally I think it’s a moot point and no one’s actually trying to make a good video game adaptation). Because of this, Mortal Kombat is better placed than most to make a good movie. You might press a couple of buttons to make it happen, but other than that, MK Fatalities are entirely passive affairs. You’re not controlling Kung Lao as he turns his hat into a sawblade and slices his opponent in half, so watching him do it in glorious, blood-gushing live action is basically the same experience.
That’s why we’re all really here isn’t it? Here watching Mortal Kombat I mean, not cosmically. It’s the same reason half of us played or watched our buddies play the later games in the series – to see how many creative ways organs and spines can be removed from the human body. Thankfully, they really do deliver on that. The martial arts aren’t very awe-inspiring but the combination of decent choreography, mostly flawless special effects, and decent editing that refrains from cutting every two seconds (I know, incredible!) makes almost every single fight a real delight to watch. The finishing moves in particular brought out genuine cheers from me and the others watching. It’s probably on par with Godzilla vs. Kong in terms of “how cool was it when Thing 1 punched Thing 2?”
What Drags The Film Down?
But we do have to acknowledge the bad. Lewis Tan as Cole Young is a complete blank slate, an insert protagonist with a superpower ripped off from Black Panther. His fights are by far the weakest in the film, and the scenes featuring him and his family are the only times the movie slips dangerously into boredom. It’s particularly disappointing since Sonya (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks) had the makings of a much more compelling pair of protagonists. Sonya coming out on top after receiving a mix of respectful dismissal and outright contempt from her fellow male fighters made her the natural underdog champion. Jax losing and regaining use of his arms could have been pretty compelling drama if it were played out a bit longer.
Kano (Josh Lawson) regurgitated so much dialogue that there was bound to be a funny line or two in there. Sure enough they got a couple of real chuckles out of me. The actual interactions with the characters, while shallow, were almost as entertaining as the fight scenes (Liu Kang abusing his leg sweep had me howling). It’s clear that this movie was made with fans of the game in mind. The characters look perfect, and hearing their catchphrases like “Get over here” and “Your soul is mine” was cool, though saying things like “flawless victory” out loud was a bit too cheesy for my tastes.
What Will Fans Of The Game Think?
There’s definitely an issue of faithfulness to the source material – not in that they deviated too far from it, rather that it adheres to it too devotedly. We run into a problem that Warcraft faced, with too many one-note characters reciting too much lore to catch up a casual audience. I don’t really care why that lady’s mouth can open that wide, just show me her biting someone’s head off with it and I’ll be happy.
And honestly, there isn’t anything else to mention. The music doesn’t matter, the set design doesn’t matter, hell the acting barely matters. All that matters is that Scorpion fought Sub-Zero and it kicked all of the ass. If you wanted to see that, forget that cinematic trailer for Mortal Kombat X, this is the best place that’s ever been done.
The key here is narrative and thematic consistency. It’s no John Wick and it’s no Ip Man, but it didn’t need to be any of those things to succeed – it just needed to be Mortal Kombat. The Prince of Persia movie felt like you’d shaken someone awake from a dream about Jake Gyllenhaal and forced them at gunpoint to recite the plot after a quick glance at the blurb. Super Mario Bros. felt more like you’d eaten some dodgy mushrooms rather than the characters. Mortal Kombat actually feels like Mortal Kombat, and that’s why it’s the best video game movie yet.