Movie Review: “Mortal Kombat”

   Videogames and movies don’t always go hand in hand like you might expect they would. Gun to your head – what’s the best videogame turned movie adaptation? Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu have been praised on some level, but, at least in my opinion, they’re middling and safe fare, at best. Sonic was the same fish out of water story we’ve seen a dozen times prior, and Detective Pikachu was a subpar mystery adventure film wrapped in the Pokémon aesthetic. Although I found them more watchable (in a breezy, undemanding way) than the Silent Hill adaptation, at least the Silent Hill film felt like it had some level of real, actual ambition. But, I’m getting off topic – Mortal Kombat is the latest attempt by Warner Bros. to adapt the popular fighting franchise.

   Of course, you guys might remember the 1995 film or Annihilation. Although nothing to write home about, I had fun with the ’95 film. Meanwhile, the less said about Annihilation, the better.

   This 2021 martial arts fantasy film has languished in developmental hell for a while, a long while, with everyone carrying a healthy dose of cynicism, expecting the rug to be pulled out from under everyone at any moment.

   Thankfully though, they did it! Directed by Simon McQuoid with a story conceived by Oren Uziel (same guy who made that Mortal Kombat: Rebirth short film), Mortal Kombat arrived in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.

   The turnout? Pretty good. Although the information for how it did on HBO Max is scarce, the film has made 50 million worldwide thus far and I imagine Warner Bros. is likely satisfied with the results, given the Covid-19 circumstances, etc.

   The storyline is simple and straightforward. Although there’re a lot of small subplots and it might make your head hurt if you think too hard about the concept itself, it all comes down to a fight that sees Earth’s greatest champions pitted against enemies from another realm called Outworld. There is a tournament involved and the “chosen ones” have dragon tattoos, and, uh, yeah, really, just go with it. It’s outlandish and silly, for certain, but it’s also a fun concept. I’m here for it.

   I have heard some critics and moviegoers praise the faithfulness to the source material – with certain individuals saying that it offered fans everything they would’ve wanted from such a film and others saying they pandered to heavily to them. Now, I am not a huge fan of the Mortal Kombat series overall. In general, fighting games have never really been my jam. However, I do know the basics of the series – I knew the characters’ names the moment I saw them, and I know the basic fundamentals of how the series operates. I think, because of that, I am in the best position to watch and enjoy this film. I know just enough to be hyped when Scorpion yells “Get over here!”, but am not a stickler on the fine print.

   The portrayals are par for the course, with characters influenced by popular figures, like how Liu Kang is inspired by Bruce Lee, and others who’ve built an iconographic presence to them. For instance, I had a lot of fun with Sub-Zero in this film, appreciating the action-sequences and the attention  that went into making him distinguished. I know everyone I’ve talked to about this film thought Kanos carried the film, because he offers a more light-heart, silliness to what was otherwise a straight-faced film, but the storyline between Sub-Zero and Scorpion was my biggest takeaway, personally. The Kanos character offers proper comedic relief and a lively character, but could also, at times, feel like he was manufactured to be that.

   The film makes some tweaks to Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s feud, but I enjoyed the overall explanation and payoff. One character named Cole Young is the descendant of Scorpion. He is an original character for the film, and I have a mixed-bag about him. In a lot of ways, he feels like a character that “belongs,” in the sense that he represents the “player,” inserted into that world. I enjoy him in that respect, but I found the story arc with his family and his self-doubt felt overstuffed or like it could have been done better. I understand the symmetry, but found my interest waned when the camera stayed on that subplot too long. Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s feud feels classical, mythical, and badass, however, and although it’s not something that can stand up in court, per se, it resonated with me and I enjoyed it.

   I was worried about the special effects for this film heading in. Prior to, the only information I had about this film were a handful of stilled images, ones that made certain scenes and powers look very “low-cost,” which can be fun, for the right film, but for a film that tries to play it straight, can really hurt it.

   In the end, I feel like the special effects mostly work. They aren’t great, but they usually aren’t off putting, with only a couple instances where I thought it was detrimental / choppy. Sometimes too, they’re allowed to create some cool scenes, filled with all the blood and violence you could ask for.

   The choreography was decent. I can’t think of a lot of exchanges that were memorable, rather, it’s usually the payoff death or “fatality” that’s violent and distinct. I still had fun with it, but I know a lot of people may’ve wanted stunt coordination on-par with something like The Raid: Redemption, and this really isn’t that. It is fun though, and a step-above some of the hyper-edited, quick-cut action we’ve become accustom to seeing from Warner Bros. (and mainstream cinema in general as of late). That isn’t to say it isn’t in itself, victim to that same crime, however, but that I thought it wasn’t as badly anchored by it.

   For what it’s worth, as someone who wasn’t really a major fan of Mortal Kombat, I enjoyed myself a lot with this film. The characterizations aren’t exactly in-depth nor is the drama, but there’s a sense of epic-ness that I found it was surprisingly able to meet on occasion. The fight scenes are fun and filled with bloodshed, maybe not as much as the hyperviolent videogame counterparts but more than we’ve ever gotten prior for the series on film. I don’t always like the expression “popcorn movie,” as I feel sometimes we say that as a way to swat out criticisms of a film we enjoyed, but this does feel like the type of film you check your brain at the door for, and just enjoy.

   I’m not the one to ask about whether it’s everything everyone might’ve wanted from a Mortal Kombat film, but it was more than I would’ve asked for, and I’d recommend it.

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