It’s not an uncommon thing to say that it is really hard to adapt video games into movies. There is a huge list out there of video game adaptations where they either haven’t done so well at the box office or are just complete trash (aka anything done by Uwe Boll), with some of the hardest games to adapt being fighting games, since most of them do not have an established storyline to copy from. However, what has been accomplished with this reboot of the Mortal Kombat movie franchise finds a way to adapt the established video game stories mixed with a different way of telling the story to make a really good almost 2-hour thrill-ride of action and drama.
Title: Mortal Kombat
Production Company: New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions, Broken Road Productions
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Produced by: James Wan, Todd Garner, Simon McQuoid, E. Bennett Walsh
Written by: Oren Uziel & Greg Russo
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada
Based on: Mortal Kombat by Ed Boon & John Tobias
Release dates: April 23, 2021
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: R (United States)/R18+ (Australia)
Earthrealm has lost the last nine tournaments…
Many people would know the basic plot behind the original Mortal Kombat video games. There are a bunch of realms out there, all with different beings and styles of location that they inhabit. Out of all these realms, Outworld is the worst. A barren wasteland ruled by Shao Khan, a warlord whose only desire is to conquer all the realms and rule as the leader of everyone and everything. To stop Outworld from becoming the only realm to exist, the Elder Gods created a tournament where any invading realm is only allowed to make a move on another realm after winning ten of these tournaments in a row, that tournament being called Mortal Kombat.
While the tournament and realms plot is the one that most people know, there is a subplot that revolves around Hanzo Hasashi, the leader of the Shirai Ryu ninja clan, which is wiped out by another ninja assassin clan called the Lin Kuei, lead by Bi-Han. Upon his death, Hanzo disappears in a blaze of fire, just as Raiden, the lord of thunder and protector of Earthrealm, arrives and finds Hanzo’s daughter live but hidden from the assault. Raiden takes the child and disappears. This sets off the secondary plot about Cole Young, an MMA fighter who spends a lot of his time getting his butt kicked for $200 a fight.
It turns out that Cole is one of a select few fighters who was born or gained through fighting, a dragon mark (or in Cole’s case, a birthmark) which selects the owner as a champion for Earthrealm, and competitor in the Mortal Kombat tournament. On the eve of the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament, Shang Tsung and his fighters gather to try and kill all the chosen Earthrealm fighters so that Outworld would win the tenth tournament by default. After an attack by Bi-Han, now going by the name Sub Zero, Cole is found by Jax Briggs, who is working with his US Special Forces partner, Sonya Blade, to find all the selected fighters so they can group in order to fight off the incoming threat. Jax stays behind to fight Sub Zero, getting his arms ripped off in the battle, while Cole goes to Sonya’s home base to learn more. Also in Sonya’s base is Kano, a mercenary who killed one of the chosen fighters and gained a dragon mark because of it.
The trio is attacked by Syzoth (aka Reptile) in which all Sonya’s research gets destroyed in the process, but Kano takes out Syzoth by ripping its heart out through its chest. Recovering, Sonya makes a deal with Kano so that Kano will take Sonya and Cole to Raiden’s temple, a hidden location not known to many people. Kano agrees and the trio heads off to find the temple. They run into Lui Kang, a monk from the Order of Light, who is already training with his cousin Kung Lao, at the temple.
From here there is the usual bunch of BS we see in martial arts movies about finding your inner power, the protagonist (Cole) having doubts about his skills and abilities, with everything wrapping up with everyone finding their special abilities through training, obscure moments, and protecting someone they love. Most of this ends with the Outworld fighters being sent to attack the Earthrealm fighters after Kano betrays the Earthrealm group, and a huge fight breaks out with everyone getting someone to fight against, with Cole drawing the short straw and getting Goro as his opponent. After all the Earthrealm fighters learn their lessons and powers, Raiden teleports them out of his temple and to The Void, a middle-realm where the Outworld warriors cannot follow.
It is here that everyone pairs off with the Outworld fighters in a tournament-style format where Raiden forcefully teleports the Outworld fighters to their Earthrealm opponents. It’s here where we see Jax, who was found and revived by the monks at Raiden’s Temple and given metallic arms, facing off against Reiko. Sonya got to take out Kano, something she wanted to do since the very beginning. Lui Kang would face off against Kabal, in a revenge-based fight after Shang Tsung took Kung Lao’s soul during the battle at Raiden’s Temple. Finally, Cole faces off against Shang Tsung’s head assassin Mileena. Of course, all the Earthrealm fighters win their fights, leading to one final fight. Sub Zero was able to kidnap Cole’s family during the previous battles, forcing Cole to fight him one on one.
Cole is teleported to the MMA arena that he was in during the beginning of the movie, where he begins to fight Sub Zero, but the more skilled ninja kicks Cole’s ass pretty easily… Till Sub Zero cuts Cole’s hand with a blade Cole was given by Raiden. The blade summons Hanzo Hasashi, who turns out is the ancestor of Cole, meaning Cole’s bloodline would release Hanzo, now calling himself Scorpion, from hell to get revenge against the man who killed him. Scorpion kills Sub Zero, getting his revenge, and ending the Outworld threat via combat. Shang Tsung threatens an invasion with an army but is banished back to Outworld by Raiden. Raiden states that he will begin recruiting more fighters to join the Earthrealm crew, with the crew having to travel the world to find and gather them for training. Cole leaves his MMA career behind to start his journey, heading to Hollywood to find the first of the next group of fighters.
Choose Your Fighter
Before I go into the individual recaps/analysis of the actors and characters, I will say that Mortal Kombat is one of the best-casted movies I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone is cast with the right type of person, right down to the difference between Hanzo and Bi-Han being played by Japanese and Chinese actors respectively. It’s this dedication to detail that really makes Mortal Kombat one of the most authentic and diverse movies on the market today. Though, as a long-time Mortal Kombat fan, I would have liked to have seen more characters represented, the selection made here works for an opening to a much larger and longer story, which will involve more popular characters in future installments should this movie be successful.
- Lewis Tan as Cole Young
Cole is a weird one to talk about since his whole character is basically Lui Kang from the video games mixed with every generic martial arts protagonist ever. He has a family that he wants to protect, that gets kidnapped and used as leverage in the third act. He has to discover his own “hidden potential” in order to overcome his own shortcomings and save the world. It’s not that I’m saying that Lewis Tan is a bad actor, he does very well with the role he is given and is used in a way that doesn’t distract too much from the overall plot, but the character really wasn’t needed and only feels like it was added in order to give the general audience someone to connect to and avoid the “this movie is only for hardcore fans” negativity that could have happened if they stuck 100% to the events of the games.
- Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade
She’s tough but funny, and most of all… human. In an era where ultra-aggressive females with no emotions are all the rage and being called “tough women worth being role models”, Sonya comes off as a true battle-harden warrior who is driven to do the right thing and protect Earthrealm, but also more than her upbringing, she is truly a good-hearted person, even trying to help the Earthrealm fighters in battle though she was not chosen to join them. She earns her way into the finale rather than just get given everything on a silver platter. Her story arc is really well written and played well enough that you won’t notice it right away. McNamee does a great job here in a well-written role.
- Josh Lawson as Kano
BEHOLD! The fucking MVP of the whole movie! Lawson as Kano is 100% pure gold and should be the new standard for Australian characters in movies going forward. An uptight, bogan, egotistical, asshole from start to finish, Kano is the best thing in Mortal Kombat. The whole cinema was laughing at just about every single line and moment that revolved around Kano. It might just be an Australian thing where we can laugh at our own stereotypes, but I cannot state how much Kano makes this movie the best thing to being written and acted. Now bring on that Kano spin-off movie about the Black Dragon and I’ll be first in line to buy tickets.
- Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden
I feel sorry for Tadanobu Asano, he was given what should have been a central role in Mortal Kombat, but instead, he gets reduced to the role of glorified transportation vehicle. Raiden should be the one who gives everyone the run-down on what is going on, complete with training them for what is to come, but instead, he just appears, does next to nothing, then leaves. He doesn’t even get any funny lines like the character had in the 1995 film and the Conquest TV series. Sure, he gives Cole the McGuffin that brings Scorpion into the film, but otherwise, he is a complete waste.
- Mehcad Brooks as Jax
For a character who never got much in the way of story development till the reboot of the video games, Jax is a very good start to Mortal Kombat. He just looks like the military type who would be best suited to tracking and recruitment. His fight with Sub Zero is a really good one where he has a combination of hand-to-hand combat mixed with gun use, and even with his short time on screen, you feel for Jax when his arms get frozen and destroyed. Though Jax does get pushed to the background in the second half of the movie, with his development happening in the span of two scenes after getting his new arms, it is still much better than that “believe in yourself” bullshit that happened in Mortal Kombat Annihilation.
- Ludi Lin as Liu Kang
Wow, Lui Kang is jacked… and nothing else. For a character who was originally the lead in most of the original Mortal Kombat timeline, Lui Kang got shoved from the role and into the role of trainer and cliche spouting generic martial art monk character. Ludi Lin is pretty much dropped into a background role with a character that has lost everything to the audience connection character. Sure, he gets some great fight scenes and moments in Mortal Kombat, but there was nothing to the character, with everything being changed for ultimately no reason.
- Chin Han as Shang Tsung
For a guy who is meant to be the big threat and master strategist of the whole plan to kill all the Earthrealm fighters before they can do the next Mortal Kombat tournament, he comes off as no threat at all. Where Shang Tsung has always been the final threat in the games and even the 1995 movie, he mostly sits in the background, ordering others to do his bidding and that’s it. In moments where he could easily walk into the scene and do some real damage, he sits back and tells everyone they are not worth his time, and this includes Raiden. For some reason, the production decided to add a weird reverb on Chin Han’s very stone-faced performance that feels really out of place. There was little interest given to a character who should have had a lot bigger role and threat to the story.
- Joe Taslim as Bi-Han / Sub-Zero
One of the highlights of Mortal Kombat, Joe Taslim as Bi-Han/Sub Zero is a very well done character. From his introduction where he leads the assault on Hanzo Hasashi’s home, to the creepy and scary way he kills the family, through to the fights he has with Hanzo, Sub Zero is the real threat in Mortal Kombat. The use of special effects to show his ice powers really pushes how dangerous the character is, and Taslim’s stoic portrayal mix creates the best threat and scariest character for the whole film. Plus additional points to the production team for not only giving us the Blue traditional costume but the Mortal Kombat 11 version used by Kuai Liang as well as a nod to the black costume that Bi-Han would use as Noob Saibot.
- Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion
For a character who is used as the headline for not only the Mortal Kombat franchise but the development studio as well, Scorpion doesn’t get much screentime. His story is used as the bookends to the overall plot, and also the McGuffin that helps Cole get his family back from Sub Zero. While this could be seen as a negative by those of us who know and love the whole Scorpion storyline, having it be the frame around the larger story really helps tie everything together while leaving us wanting more. As I did predict, the fight of the movie belongs to Scorpion and Sub Zero.
- Max Huang as Kung Lao
It was fun to see the Shaolin Monks duo together in Mortal Kombat, as lame as Kung Lao can be, he comes off as a very good and almost lighthearted character. While being very judgemental of everyone else, Kung Lao has some of the better moments, and the most violent, of the whole group. The use of his trademark hat is really well done here, rivaling Captain America throwing his shield in Marvel films. Max Huang’s limber movements really flow on screen looking like something out of a really good martial arts movie from Hong Kong. It was a bit of a letdown that his backstory was turned into a joke, but what did we really expect from someone who had the same story as the new protagonist?
- Sisi Stringer as Mileena
Coming off more as a generic assassin rather than a fully formed character, you could tell that Mileena was added into Mortal Kombat mainly for her look and use of special effects. The fight scenes with Mileena are really well done, mimicking Nightcrawler from X-Men in the way she pops in and out of shots with a puff of smoke. It’s just a real shame that Mortal Kombat didn’t go back far enough with Mileena’s backstory about who she is and what she is, which could have led to some great foreshadowing in future films. Props to Sisi Stinger who looked like she had a lot of fun playing Mileena with every moment of that joy showing on screen through her sick portrayal of the character.
- Mel Jarnson as Nitara
Wow, what a complete waste. Nitara was a character who had no lines, one fight, and was suddenly introduced only to disappear again. Yep, that’s it.
- Nathan Jones as Reiko
Oh, Nathan, I have no idea why but for someone who was so hyped about getting a role in Mortal Kombat, you got saddled with the worst character in the whole film. Much like Nitara, Reiko is introduced for no other reason than to fill a spot on the Outworld roster of characters. They didn’t even go out of their way to make him look anything like the character, which in a film where everyone else is extremely close to their video game counterparts, is just laughable. Sorry big guy, but you got the short end of the stick here.
- Daniel Nelson as Kabal / Damon Herriman as the voice of Kabal
What surprised me most about the inclusion of Kabal is that the character is so distinct in his look that it would either come off as awesome or look goofy as hell. Luckily for Mortal Kombat, they nailed Kabal in a way that really worked for the movie. The facemask is looking perfect, the movements of Daniel Nelson with the speed effects work really well, and Damon Herriman voice is just a great mix of elements to make a very memorable character who doesn’t get enough screentime. Muck like Kano, add him into a Black Dragon spin-off and I’ll be buying tickets.
- Angus Sampson as the voice of Goro
I can’t really say much about Angus Sampson’s portrayal as the voice of Goro as Goro doesn’t speak, but more growls in the scene that he is in, so nothing much there. But I will say that seeing a much better-looking version of Goro, which was completely CGI-based, was a huge improvement over what we got in the 1995 film. It was a shame that the fight that Goro was in only served the purpose of pushing Cole to the limits to unlock his personal powers, but at the same time his intro was so well done that it felt like something out of one of The Conjuring films. Improvements all around for Goro, and that’s more than what we expected.
- Laura Brent as Alison & Matilda Kimber as Emily
I decided to combine the two people here, who play Cole’s wife and daughter respectively… I think. The relationships of these characters to Cole were so underplayed that I completely forgot about what they were meant to be as soon as the movie ended. Both characters basically serve as the catalyst for Cole to have something more than himself to protect, thus making him find his self confidence or whatever, then they get captured by Sub Zero to be used as fodder to get Cole to fight Sub Zero in the third act. Really generic stuff here.
A successful port of the video game
For people who know Mortal Kombat, and the books full of lore that have been invested over the decades, Mortal Kombat is a dream movie. Everything from moves, special attacks, characters, locations, and more are referenced here in some way. While a lot of the references are visual since this is a visual medium, there are some smaller references that pop up for a moment or are mentioned in passing, that hardcore fans will notice and celebrate.
For those who are not too knowledgeable about Mortal Kombat’s past, there is still a lot to be enjoyed. Just the visual nature of the world that has been shown here is enough for non-Mortal Kombat fans to enjoy, though they might find it slow at times as characters do fill in the plot for them. However, the fight scenes are so amazingly over the top that all fans of action will enjoy these moments together as fans and non-fans.
Speaking of the fight scenes, this is where the movie really shines. James Wan knows a lot about the Mortal Kombat video games and made sure that he stayed true to everything that can happen in the Mortal Kombat video game series. We see everything from amazing martial arts, to special moves that mimic the video game to perfection. Sub Zero is the highlight here with his ability to freeze moisture into ice, and even create snow, in some of the best effects in the movie. Other characters keep a lot of their moves intact as “Akana”, a chi-style power that every chosen Mortal Kombat fighter has. So outside of Jax getting his metal arms, which get upgraded from basic skeleton prosthetics to fully mechanical coverings of awesome (A complete turn around from Mortal Kombat Annihilation), there is very little technology used here, so Kano misses out on a key piece of his appearance (his metal face replacement) but gets his eye laser anyway.
At top of these abilities off are the fatalities, which are used really well as the ending moments of a lot of battles. We get to see fatalities from many of the characters, from the simple ones like Kano’s “Heart Rip” to more over-the-top magical ones like Lui Kang’s flaming dragon. These moments are huge, spectacular, and followed up by a one-liner that concludes the fights in a fashion much like the video game. To add to these moments, listen closely to the background audio for a good reference.
If you’ve watched any of James Wan’s past movies, you will notice a lot of what he did in previous films like Saw, Annabelle, and Aquaman, are all on display here. While Wan wasn’t the director on this, but in a producer role, you know that Wan’s fingerprints are all over Mortal Kombat. There are a lot of action shots shown here that come right out of Wan’s time on Aquaman, with amazing special effects making everything that could not happen in real life looking like they actually could. There are even moments that will harken back to Wan’s horror movie roots, with characters appearing in a way that looks like it was ripped right out of a horror movie. Combine this with some really well-placed drama and comedy, and you see a mix of styles that really makes Mortal Kombat stand out from other films that are out now or coming out soon.
Mortal Kombat also takes full advantage of its R rating, with swearing coming from all directions… mostly from Kano, and there is a lot of blood in the fight scenes. It was great to see a producer and director who understood that you cannot make a good Mortal Kombat movie under anything less than this rating, freeing it from the trappings of “video games are for kids” and that you need to dumb down the movie to a PG audience in order to be successful.
Something seems off here…
While Mortal Kombat is a very enjoyable movie, with a lot of reasons for fans and non-fans to enjoy it, there are some parts of it that most reviewers will point out that drag the film down. The biggest one is the very disjointed nature of the opening third of the movie, where a lot of plot background is given all at once, introducing characters and locations with very little clue about what is going on. This part of the movie is no problem for Mortal Kombat fans, people who do not understand the background ahead of time will find this confusing, and sometimes boring. I’ll admit that this is true from that perspective, but without these moments, the audience would be even more lost. So it was good that these “slow and boring” moments were included in the movie.
Another thing that people will not like is the selection of characters, especially the inclusion of Cole Young as the protagonist. Cole is seen as the “connection” character for the audience, but ultimately takes the role that Lui Kang had in the video games, as the chosen fighter to save Earthrealm. Making this change leaves Lui Kang in a position where he takes over Raiden’s spot as the one who trains the Earthrealm fighters, leaving Raiden with nothing to do other than be a transport vehicle for the Earthrealm fighters. As someone who knows the story of Mortal Kombat, this makes Raiden look even more useless than Raiden in Mortal Kombat Annihilation.
The other thing that becomes annoying is that you can tell that Mortal Kombat was made with hopes of being made into a series of movies, as the outcome of this movie is just really weird. With the final fights wrapped up, Shang Tsung threatens an invasion, and that “death is only another portal”, meaning in typical villain fashion he is stating “We’ll be back”. With no more fighters available at the time, Shang’s threat feels really empty without even showing the bigger threat in Shao Khan, which was another issue altogether. We are meant to believe that Shao Khan and Outworld are huge threats, but Shang Tsung is pushed so far into the background that we can’t even imagine him as a threat, leaving the whole point of the plot to mean nothing at all.
Mortal Kombat is a really good film at the end of it all, serving as an action thrill ride for non-fans of the games, as well as a reference-filled homage to the games for those fans as well. Overall Mortal Kombat is going to set the stage as a prime example of how you reboot a franchise into something that will be very successful and deserves to be seen by all audiences. I would recommend people go out to the cinema and see this, as the audio mixing here is something that you need to experience in the cinema. However, if you do plan to watch this at home via HBO MAX, then I hope you have a good high-quality TV (Like 65+ inches with 4K) and a very good 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system in order to get the full experience of Mortal Kombat. After leaving the cinema, I already want to go back and watch it a second time, then buy it on 4K home media when it gets released. It’s that good.
Mortal Kombat is one of those movies that fans of video games are going to love. It’s filled with so many references that you are going to have to see the movie multiple times to find them all. For people who are not fans of the Mortal Kombat universe, then they are going to love the over-the-top action scenes and the violence continued within. Mortal Kombat is one of those films that really need to be experienced to understand. I found it hard to write the review in a way that everyone would understand how good this movie is. So go watch it… NOW!
- A very good cast and crew
- Takes full advantage of the R rating
- Everything Kano says
- Disjoined editing can be off-putting
- Exposition dumps come off as boring
- The ending sequel-baits too much