I love Mortal Kombat. I’ve played every game (even the bad ones), and there are more articles about the franchise on this site than there are about baseball, hockey, soccer, and basketball combined. So despite the fact that Ed Boon never publicly endorsed it, I tuned into it on HBO Max when it came out, hoping against hope that I’d get some kind of fan vindication.
Which is why it hurts that it was this bad.
Mortal Kombat (2021) Is Unwatchable
What I Liked
Let me get this out of the way, because I don’t want people to “yeah, but” me in the comments. The fight scenes were great, and the commitment to detail on fatalities is appreciated. Josh Lawson’s Kano was probably the film’s only likable character, which all things considered, is a pretty damning statement in itself.
That’s it. Now for me to perform my own film fatality.
Pardon My Language
Pardon my language, I’m very passionate about Mortal Kombat as a franchise, and even with low, low expectations, I was shocked by how horrible this movie was. I may get carried away with just how much I hate this movie in this review. So I’m sorry.
IT’S. CALLED. MORTAL. KOMBAT.
For those of you that haven’t played the games, Mortal Kombat is a tournament that takes place every generation to determine the safety of the realms. Shao Kahn sends his warriors to battle the champions of Earthrealm in said tournament, and if he wins ten in a row, he can conquer the realm. These tournaments are the setting of the first few games, and spirit of the franchise.
So tell me why the movie doesn’t feature the fucking tournament? The entire plot revolves around Shang Tsung (performed with absolutely no love by Chin Han, especially compared to the iconic performance from Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) hiring Bi Han to kill Earthrealm’s Champions before the tournament can happen. I don’t ask a lot from video game movies, as they almost universally suck, but if a film is going to be about a fighting tournament video game, I ask that it has the fighting tournament.
They seriously made a Mortal Kombat movie… without Mortal Kombat.
It’s a Video Game Movie
So this is uh… a video game movie. It’s a movie about a video game. There’s a lizard person in it, and his name is reptile. This series is as campy as it is violent. The movie grasps the violence perfectly, but it takes itself so god damn seriously. There’s so little levity that when characters make the occasional reference (flawless victory, fatality, Kano wins), it feels out of place. This movie isn’t fun… and it’s supposed to be.
This is partially where it really misses Johnny Cage, because the only comic relief it has… comes in the form of a villain. Everyone is always brooding, and I don’t know if anyone else actually played these fucking games, but the characters aren’t robots… except for the actual robots, and even they have more personality than anyone in this movie does.
Say what you will about the old Mortal Kombat movies (and elder god knows there’s a lot to say about Annihilation), but at least they’re fun, unlike this dimly lit atrocity.
What the Hell Is This Lighting?
When I say this movie is hard to watch, I’m not referring to the fatalities. I mean most of the scenes in this movie don’t even have natural lighting. So much of this film takes place at night or in dimly lit rooms or cages, and it’s essentially unwatchable on a small screen or with any kind of glare. This is such a small issue compared to everything else, but I was originally watching on my laptop and had to switch to the TV because there was a slight glare from across the room so I couldn’t see anything. If you’re going to make a terrible action movie, I should be able to enjoy the action, right?
This expression actually works in two ways! Firstly, this movie killed off a ton of characters without sniffing their personal plots, growth, or development, and secondly, holy shit, nobody in this film has the slightest idea about the characters. These characters like SNL-skit parodies of themselves, and what’s worse, the film can’t make up their minds about whether they want to over-exposit or wink knowingly at the audience.
In the games, movies, and comics, Bi-Han is a cryomancer and a ninja. In this film, he is a cryomancer and a ninja… that is hundreds of years old? In the first scene of the movie, he kills Hanzo Hasashi (we’ll get there), but apparently, it was hundreds of years ago because Cole Young (we’ll get there) is his great-great-great whatever. How can Bi Han live this long? If this movie manages to get sequels (please no), how do you justify Kuai Liang just being a normal human-aged person? And if Bi-Han is practically immortal or whatever, how come he gets killed relatively easily at the end of the film? Why not just skip the whole process and make him Noob Saibot if you were going to make us endure whatever this bastardization of the beloved icon was?
So hey, the character of Hanzo Hasashi doesn’t really show up in Mortal Kombat games until much, much later. As a demonic spectre, Scorpion is an anti-hero and the face of the franchise. The deception of Quan Chi is integral to his character development, but instead of being the beloved character, he’s just wearing a funny outfit and can breathe fire. He doesn’t actually do much of anything in this movie other than get killed by Bi-Han and then light him on fire. We don’t see Netherrealm, Hanzo’s appearance doesn’t really change at all, and this character assassination is worse than Sub-Zero’s because there’s absolutely nothing to like about it.
I get why they made this character. We, as a viewing audience, are strangers to this world. We need someone, the Luke Skywalker/Robin Scherbatsky/Arthur Dent character, to be the vehicle, to receive the exposition from the well-versed characters. Is the character well-written? No. Do I know anything about his family? No. Do I care about him as a person? No. But this movie needed a normal person with a fighting background. It needed a Cage fighter. Without a Cage fighter, he would’ve been hopeless in the tournament. It’s not like there’s an established Cage fighter in the Mortal Kombat universe that’s been used as the aforementioned plot vehicle before.
And before you say “oh, but the last shot of the movie,” please don’t. You gave me a Mortal Kombat that gave Reiko a speaking part but saved Johnny for a fucking pseudo-post credit scene. Bite me. SPEAKING OF WHICH…
How are you gonna have Mileena without Kitana? In what world do you justify having the evil, manipulated clone of a character without featuring the character herself? Followup, how do you kill off Mileena before she has a SINGLE SCENE OF DIALOGUE with her “sister” on screen? Maybe you can make another clone for the sequel, but then what’s the point? She becomes a nameless, disposable villain instead of Shao Kahn’s perfect heiress. Mileena kinda epitomizes this movie, where she looks kinda cool, but everything else about her is pointless bullshit.
In the games, Goro is not only a Prince, but one of the most feared and devastating champions in the history of the tournament. He killed the Great Kung Lao and has been securing Shao Kahn’s dominance ever since. As time goes on, he has a change of heart, and even allies with Kitana Kahn.
In the movie, he gets sent to Earthrealm and gets killed. No reference being Tsung’s champion, no fight in the tournament, he just dies. He gets killed in his only fight. He’s no different than the other 900 villains that are hero fodder in this game.
Oh man, I’m really happy Kung Lao was in this movie for 15 minutes. I’m glad we hit the cool hat fatality and then Shang Tsung takes his soul without any pushback. Really neat, glad this iconic character was handled so carefully.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with the way Raiden, Sonya, Jax, and Liu Kang are portrayed. Sure, they all deal with a putrid script and shitty dialogue, but they’re faithful enough. Outside of that, nobody else should’ve even been in this movie. Kabal’s character design looked great, but all I can remember is his “oh he’s about to suck his soul” as a line of dialogue, which is… wow, maybe not as bad as “Too bad you will die” but… definitely hall of shame.
More Stuff I Hated
- Calling it the “Hanzo Hasashi Compound” instead of the Fire Garden
- References to the Lin Kuei and Shirai Ryu without ever explaining what they are
- No mention of Shao Kahn or what the tournament (THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE FUCKING MOVIE) is for
- The laughably stupid “arcana” plotline, which was basically put in to yada-yada cool things about characters
- The fact that people think the characters making game references equates to the writers being faithful to the source material
- Raiden is an elder god in this movie, even though that promotion is two tournaments and an invasion of earthrealm away from this point
- The rules forbid Raiden from getting involved, but they don’t forbid Shang Tsung from killing all of Earth’s champions? Furthermore, if they’ve won nine straight tournaments, why do this at all? Why not let the tournament happen, especially because it took teamwork to kill Sub-Zero, who could’ve killed any of them by himself
- If Goro can just show up on Earthrealm, why are we having this tournament? Why not just invade Earth?
- Jax’s arms being his arcana made me actually laugh out loud
- The scenery sucked. Instead of Shang Tsung’s island, a staple of the series, half of this movie is in a dimly lit cave
Everyone involved in the writing, directing, acting, producing, or sharing of this movie should feel bad. To quote Shao Kahn, “you suck.”