Mortal Kombat has had a few different films release over the years and they vary quite a bit in quality. The original release received poor reception from most critics at the time but over the years it’s become recognized as embracing the style and tone from the games while also just being a fun movie. We don’t talk about 1997’s Mortal Kombat Annihilation, but the 2021 reboot is right up there with the original release in terms of entertainment and faithfulness.
Get over here!
Mortal Kombat is a fighting series that’s been around since 1992 with over twenty games releases over the years since. It may sound odd or difficult adapting a fighting series but the Mortal Kombat series is filled with story, lore, character development, and atmosphere. The story, lore, and characters are a large part of why it’s my favorite fighting game series. The gameplay is tight and fun but the circumstances surrounding everything help make it one of the most interesting and entertaining fighting franchises. It’s also part of what makes it a perfect target for film adaptations. Story sprinkled around cinematic visuals and the franchise’s stylistic brutality tucked into the martial arts battles themselves; what more could you ask for?
Mortal Kombat (2021) contains everything except the tournament itself, which feels odd at first but it honestly works. The film primarily features Sonya Blade, Raiden, and other franchise favorites building a defense against Shang Tsung’s disregard for the tournament rules, with plans to kill fighters from Earthrealm before the next Mortal Kombat takes place. Tsung’s goal is to prevent a prophecy from coming true, which states the “blood of Hanzo Hasashi” will unite new fighters from Earthrealm’s champtions to prevent Outworld from claiming victory and power over Earthrealm.
If this sounds wild then just know we’re only a few inches into the ocean of Mortal Kombat’s story, which combines tone from every direction. It can feel a bit overwhelming but that’s when the games take a break and yell “FIGHT!” which gives you time to process new story information while also trying to keep your character’s spine attached and in their body. The movie takes the same approach and it works to translate, and sell the series’ particular brand of bloody cheese.
Test your might
Traveling to different locations while filling in plot development with conversations from the characters on both sides with fights in between. There were so many parts of this film where it felt like I could just grab a controller and start playing after a verbal confrontation finished. There was even one instance where I yelled “FIGHT!” a mere two seconds before someone on screen did. That’s how tight and bound the sequencing and flow is for this film. It feels like it could be a Mortal Kombat game. In fact, I’m kind of hoping they do a game adaptation of it before Mortal Kombat 12. It would work very well because this film feels like one of the games in so many instances.
The music feels updated and modern while still embracing the themes and notes you’d expect to hear in the games. The sounds of punches connecting and bones breaking feel like something my ears would ingest while smiling ear-to-ear after claiming victory in the game. This is Mortal Kombat, for better or worse.
I really wish the tournament took place but I honestly love how the characters and circumstances were introduced. The bad guys trying to murder the other side before the tournament even happens shows series newcomers exactly who these enemies are. And watching the good guys desperately try to stay alive while they build up a defense along the way shows that even though the deck is stacked against them, good can triumph against evil. Ed Boon, please make a game adaptation of this or even a condensed version as DLC for Mortal Kombat 11.
The fights feel like they’ve been ripped straight from the games. It’s uncanny how well they’ve been replicated. The conversations that happen right before a fight starts also feels like the cutscenes spread in-between the fights in the games. It’s all here. The camera angles have been adjusted for the medium, which was a great decision. The camera can’t jump and move around as much in the games, even if it would look cooler, because the player needs to be able to see their entire character and their opponent before making snap decisions that lead them to victory. Those watching the film don’t need to see a zoomed out angle and can just be a passenger for every punch, bone break, and kick. The films camera follows the action, taking the viewer through the violence instead of witnessing it from afar. I love this and think it was a great decision. There was moment during a fight between Sub-Zero and Scorpion where the camera briefly utilized the perspective of the games, which gave me a surge of joy. I’m sure other fans of the games saw it and felt the same way. It would have been easy to just lift everything from the games without changing anything. It would have looked more authentic on paper but producers James Wan, Todd Garner, E. Bennett Walsh, and director/producer Simon McQuoid knew exactly how to translate the games into a fun and entertaining film
Actor Joe Taslim, who portrays Sub-Zero, has stated he’s signed on for four films and the film has been successful despite releasing on HBO Max and in theaters during a pandemic. WarnerMedia knows the power and potential of Mortal Kombat already and so I’m sure we will see another film from Warner and the other companies involved. The next film can likely have a shorter leadup and more focus on the Mortal Kombat tournament. I think this release captured the tone and spirit of the games really well and am excited for Mortal Kombat’s future in film, which is something I didn’t know I’d be saying a few weeks before watching Mortal Kombat (2021).