The Mortal Kombat movie opens in theatres in Malaysia, but we managed to watch an earlier screening in TGV Cinemas—here’s our review. Rest assured, we won’t be spoiling the movie.
As a video game, Mortal Kombat practically shaped every single other game that came after it. The game birthed the ESRB, became the poster child of violence in video games—and we love it.
If you want to know how Mortal Kombat (2021) lives up as a modern movie adaptation of a historic, 29-year-old franchise, carry on reading this review!
Gory instead of story
The Mortal Kombat video games have never been known for their story or narrative. For better or for worse, the movie emulates this quality. In some ways, the film suffers the same problem as 2016’s Suicide Squad. You have this large cast of characters whose rich lore and backstory are decades old. It is difficult to flesh out and stay faithful to all the characters—Avengers did standalone movies for most of its heroes before culminating into Infinity War and Endgame.
However, I feel that the writing team did a commendable job in writing the characters’ dialogue and personality as faithful as possible to their lore. In addition, many iconic lines and references were sprinkled here and there which fans would love. However, I still found it quite out of place for characters to state their own “victory” announcement like the narrator of the Mortal Kombat games.
The film’s protagonist, Cole Young (played by Lewis Tan) is an unfamiliar face in the Mortal Kombat universe. His inclusion serves as a vehicle for non-Mortal Kombat fans to dive into the movie’s lore. While the movie’s first act is somewhat exposition-heavy as a result, it is quite bearable. To franchise veterans—rest assured, you still get to see much of Scorpion, Sub-Zero and other iconic characters.
Sadly, the movie’s pacing is atrocious. The film’s final act was extremely short and while it is action-packed, narrative cohesion was pretty much thrown out of the window. Regardless, characters are still true to their lore and abilities, even though they can feel incredibly convenient for the plot.
In a nutshell, do not go into the film thinking that the story will be decent.
Round 1, FIGHT!
The action in this movie is what it is really about. While we do not get to see any X-Ray shots, Mortal Kombat fans will be pleased to see iconic moves and fatalities being performed. The gore feels cathartic. Note that you will see internal organs, dismemberment and plenty of other violent imagery. If that is not your thing, then you should not watch this movie. Mortal Kombat fans will feel right at home.
As for the fight scenes, you will have a lot of them. There are more than 10 fights scenes where characters beat each other up with fists, weapons and special abilities.
However, the choreography leaves much to be desired. The fight scenes and martial arts feel like any other B-grade Hollywood action flick. Unlike John Wick, characters throwing their punches and kicks feel telegraphed and slow. This is important for fighting games, but not for a movie fight scene. If anything, the martial arts are just an excuse for characters not to spam their special abilities, which are a lot cooler.
Sadly, the biggest offender when it comes to the fight scenes is the editing. Cuts happen extremely frequently and switch from close-ups to long shots haphazardly. Worse, when fights are happening at the same time at multiple locations, the film will change from location to location really often. This leads to many fights feeling like a complete mess, as continuity is barely clinging on.
In addition, if you are watching this film in Malaysian cinemas, you might as well wait for online streaming services to air the film. The censorship board’s review left out quite a bit of the gore and fatalities which really suck the soul out of the Mortal Kombat movie.
No Johnny Cage, but can others act?
Let’s face it—video game characters, especially those from the 90s, are not very realistic. As real-life actors attempt to portray unrealistic characters, we ought to judge them based on how faithful they are to the source material.
On that note, Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s use of Japanese and Chinese feel off. While they are being accurate to the racial inspiration behind the character, it does not feel at home in the Mortal Kombat universe. It feels quite weird for them to converse in Japanese and Chinese, but speak in English when delivering iconic lines.
Otherwise, the performances of the actors feel largely faithful to their video game counterparts. Most of the characters are stoic, battle-hardened Kombatants and behave that way.
As a result, Kano, portrayed by Josh Lawson, really stood out compared to the rest of the cast. Lawson performed the role of lively, potty-mouthed, criminal with great personality and charisma. The other cinema-goers frequently giggled at his quips and Kano ultimately became the character who is the centre of any dialogue or conversation.
A Dance of Fire and Ice
Firstly, the costumes are excellent. The characters really look faithful to their in-game counterparts. The designs for Scorpion and Sub-Zero look fantastic and definitely deserve to appear in the next Mortal Kombat game. Shang Tsung and Liu Kang looked spot on and Kung Lao’s costume was perfect, complete with the hat. The only offender amongst the cast was Mileena. While it is understandable that she does not need to bare as much skin like the in-game character, I felt that she should at least keep her pink motif and mask on.
Furthermore, the special effects were also well-executed. There was plenty of fire, ice and lightning to see. Thankfully, they not only look but felt impactful. Liu Kang’s flames feel distinct from Scorpion’s. Kabal’s constant dashing feels annoying, which is great because that is how it is in the games.
Other than that, the film looks fine overall. Outworld looks drab and depressing like how it should be. However, Raiden’s temple is completely different from the pagoda-like appearance frequently portrayed in the games. Mortal Kombat fans, do take note.
The Sound of Violence
In terms of sound, Sub-Zero’s ice definitely takes the cake. The formation and manipulation of ice really sent chills, no pun intended. Whenever Sub-Zero uses his icy powers, the sweet, sweet crackling of ice was marvellous. Overall, the special effects sound equally as impactful as how they look.
Besides that, Mortal Kombat fans got to hear the iconic fight theme playing, which had a fitting remix for one of the fights.
Overall the film is a mixed bag. While I would highly recommend it to Mortal Kombat fans, I would not recommend it to anyone else. It is an action film with subpar choreography made worse by horrendous editing. That alone is a huge negative, even though the film had great special effects, costumes and other points. For Mortal Kombat fans willing to overlook the film’s flaws, the movie is probably a 7/10. Otherwise, as an action movie, it is a 4/10 viewing experience.
Mortal Kombat (2021)
Great fanservice, but bad action film
- Impactful special effects
- Faithful portrayal of characters
- Many references to the games
- Lacklustre choreography with fights that feel slow
- Abysmal editing
- Bad, rather illogical plot
- Horrendous pacing
7/10 if you are a Mortal Kombat fan