Growing up everyone had a passion for something and going to an all-boys school meant that it had to be either football or video-games. For better or worse, I wasn’t a fan of either. I was the raging cinephile in a sea of desensitized football player trading-card collectors. The only games I played growing up were the wholesome ones on the Nintendo DS or the ones on the Cartoon Network website. In fact, to hammer this point home, I honestly thought that ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Street Fighter’ were the same franchise. MK fans, I am so sorry you had to read that, especially because after watching this movie, I think I might have been transformed into a ‘Mortal Kombat’ fan myself.
When it comes to live-action adaptations, they will obviously hold more value and entertainment if the viewer loves the original source material. However, these movies are also supposed to be mainstream. They’re meant to be watched by fans and non-fans alike. Considering I never touched a single MK game, I followed this movie pretty well and I got a lot out of it. Watching this movie took me back to those adventure movies from the ’90s. If I had to compare this movie to any other video-game adaptation, it would be the new ‘Jumanji‘ movies which I am a massive fan of. However whereas those movies are more self-aware and are able to make light of themselves, this movie doesn’t really know if it wants to do that. It was very odd at times because the cliched 90’s, over-the-top style suits this movie but there are definitely times where the movie takes itself a bit too seriously. The movie embraces its over-the-top nature but not in the way you would expect. The dialogue, script and overall nature of the movie are very easy to make light of because it is so animated and cliched but the movie has a hard time laughing at itself which left some scenes feeling very weird tonally. There are definitely scenes that leave the viewer wondering whether to chuckle or to take it seriously.
That being said, the ‘Mortal Kombat’ lore and mythology were definitely compelling. There was a genuine sense of excitement to be had seeing more of this world open up. I also appreciated the fact that they didn’t try to overcrowd the first movie to please the fans. There was an appropriate amount of lore and setup. My favourite part of the movie has to be the entire second act which is a bizarre thing for me to say. Usually, second acts are inferior to the first and last acts but here it felt like genuine fun getting to spend time at Raiden’s temple. The introduction of the Earthrealm champions, Liu Kang and Kung Lao definitely brought in a much-needed fantastical element. The first act felt like an incredibly cliched action movie. It was undeniably disappointing to see that exhilarating opening scene with Bi-Han and Hasashi only to then bring us to modern times with a character that I have little to no interest in. In fact, the fact that the movie opens and ends with Scorpion and Sub-Zero makes it feel like there was a completely different movie in-between. The promotional campaign was incredibly misleading considering the fact that Lewis Tan’s Cole Young is barely featured in it despite being the protagonist. Then again, out of all the characters in this movie, Cole Young is definitely the odd one out.
It doesn’t take a ‘Mortal Kombat’ fan to know that Cole Young isn’t a character from the games, even I felt it. Cole Young lacks any depth or intrigue as a character. He never had any real motive or conflict, there was nothing that told me that I should root for him or believe that he was the main character. I found Liu Kang, Sub Zero, Kung Lao and Scorpion much more compelling and visually striking than whatever Cole Young had to offer. That being said, the script isn’t particularly rich in any department. There is a ton of exposition including the introduction to Outworld and Earthrealm. The dialogue is also very mediocre, then again, this movie knows what it is and it’s not trying to be anything else which is commendable in and of itself. I just wish it gave the characters a bit more complexity.
The moment I knew that this movie was going to be if anything, entertaining is when Hasashi breaks all hell loose on the Lin Kuei assassins. It was a ton of fun seeing the movie use its R-rating when it did. However, for a video-game series so famously known for its gore, I feel like this movie held back. There were definitely times where this movie felt PG-13 until you see someone’s bones hanging out. They had the opportunity to do a lot with that R-rating and while they did use it in a very effective way, I can’t help but feel they should’ve used it more often. Other than that, the visual language of this movie was stunning. The visual effects, particularly Sub-Zero’s ice powers were a visual treat. It didn’t look like it would age badly which is the case with many manipulated elements in live-action (cough, cough, The Last Airbender). The costumes and locations were gorgeous. When this movie goes full ‘Mortal Kombat‘, it made me understand why this is such a beloved franchise. It made me see the appeal and in doing so, it even got me to check out more of the franchise so it definitely did something right.
Overall, ‘Mortal Kombat’ manages to find somewhat of a balance with its over-the-top mythology and lacking script and characters. It makes up for the latter with some compelling action and intriguing set-up. Standouts like Sub-Zero and Liu Kang definitely made a fan out of me which is ultimately what it’s set out to do. When the inevitable sequel comes along I will definitely be buying a ticket. I definitely want to see more of this world and these characters, I just wish the next movie will find its voice and really understand what works and what doesn’t. That being said, it’s perfectly entertaining and an easy watch. It may not be a revolutionary step in adapting video-games into cinema but it’s ultimately a step in the right direction.