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Mortal Kombat (2021) Review

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Mortal Kombat (2021)

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence & offensive language
Cast:
Lewis Tan as Cole Young
Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade
Josh Lawson as Kano
Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden
Mehcad Brooks as Jax
Ludi Lin as Liu Kang
Chin Han as Shang Tsung
Joe Taslim as Bi-Han/Sub-Zero
Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion
Director: Simon McQuoid

Hunted by the fearsome warrior Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) finds sanctuary at the temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Training with experienced fighters Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and the rogue mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions to take on the enemies from Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe.

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I have played Mortal Kombat 9, 10 and 11, I’m a fan of the series but I wasn’t confident in the upcoming live action adaptation. Video game movies aren’t known for succeeding that well, and although the Paul WS Anderson Mortal Kombat movie in 1995 was one of the better video game movies, I wasn’t sure that it would be anything beyond just okay. Despite the mixed reactions, I decided to check it out, and I’m glad I did. It had plenty of issues, but I had fun with it.

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Many people expected this already, but the story isn’t great. There are plenty of things that don’t make sense, there’s some conveniences, and there’s a ton of explosion that is given by multiple characters. However I was constantly entertained by what was going on that it didn’t really matter. The first act is introducing characters and the story, and the third act is the climax with a lot of fighting, the weaker link is the second act. During this the pacing suffers and the movie can drag quite a bit. In the movie, a tournament is coming that could decide the fate of earth, so the main characters have to prepare to be Earth’s champions for said tournament. In a sense, that means that this movie is a more of a setup to the coming tournament, which will actually happen in the sequel. It does mean that the climax of this movie does feel like it is missing something at the end, even if it is enjoyable. This movie definitely has sequel bait, however I’m actually interested in a sequel so I guess it works.

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Now about the tone. I can see some people saying that this movie has a dark take and is actively trying to avoid being cheesy. While it certainly is more serious than the 90s Mortal Kombat movies, I was constantly entertained for what it was. So many of the dialogue and moments were so cheesy and silly that it still felt reasonably self aware. There’s so many things that were here that were really silly and ridiculous that for most of the movie, I couldn’t take it seriously (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing). The one confusing aspect with regard to tone is with its opening scene. This scene is a flashback involving the character Scorpion, and it’s actually the best scene in the movie. It is dark in tone, it’s shot and performed greatly. It feels like a genuinely great martial arts movie with some fantasy elements. Then that scene ends, and the tone switches and doesn’t change again. It legit felt like a different director was brought in to do that scene, or that it was from a completely different movie entirely. So in a way that’s a positive and a negative. Mortal Kombat is pretty faithful to the video games they are based on, more so than the 90s film at least. There are plenty of references to the lore, the world and other characters that fans will recognise. There’s also moves, lines and other references which fans will really appreciate. There’s particularly a rather meta joke involving Liu Kang and Kano during a practice fight which I loved. If you’re not a Mortal Kombat fan you could probably still enjoy the movie but you won’t quite get the full experience that fans would have. Also it might just be me, but with some of the absurd things that happen in this movie I just thought that it was very typical for Mortal Kombat, which is why I was willing to go along with them.

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The acting for the most part isn’t great, but they are decent, and they were cast to almost near perfection. There’s a surprising amount of iconic Mortal Kombat characters in here, including Sonya Blade, Jax, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Raiden, and Kano. The villains were also greatly done here with Kabal, Mileena, Kabal, Shang Tsung, and Sub Zero. This movie particularly did a great job of showcasing them, showing off their powers, fighting styles and overall characters and personalities greatly. The standouts out of all of the characters for me were Scorpion, Sub Zero, and Kano. Hiroyuki Sanada isn’t in the movie a ton as Scorpion, but the casting is great and he’s really good when on screen. Joe Taslim as Sub Zero is the closest thing to a main villain for this movie (even though Shang Tsung is really the big bad), and he was a great screen presence. Kano was the biggest surprise though. Josh Lawson is effortlessly entertaining, charismatic and hilarious in this role and a scene stealer for sure. Would love to see him in a Mortal Kombat sequel. There is just one issue with the actors and characters, that being Lewis Tan as the lead character Cole Young. Cole is actually an original character and not from the video games, which is fine if the filmmakers wanted to bring something new to the Mortal Kombat universe. However, he is really the audience surrogate character who is there to ask a whole lot of questions and has a lot of exposition dumped on him. Beyond Tan’s rather average performance, Cole is just not an interesting character. All there is to him is that he has a family he wants to defend, he has some hidden power with him which he discovers by the end, and that’s literally it. There is no other characteristic or personality trait that he has, and he especially suffers when just about every other character is at least memorable in some way.

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This movie is directed by Simon McQuoid. This is his first feature film, with his past work being from working on commercials. For a filmmaking debut, it’s decent enough. One thing that does hold the movie back a bit is that the budget is at $50 million which is pretty low for a blockbuster, especially one from Warner Bros. In some ways with the way things are shown, it does feel like a high budget fan film, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. People are here for fight and action scenes, and they absolutely deliver. They are violent, choreographed well, and energetic and exciting to watch. Speaking about violent, one of the notable differences between this and the 90s movies is the blood and gore, with this version having an R rating. The Mortal Kombat games are known for the over the top level of violence from the fighting and especially the fatalities. This movie has the freedom now to represent that on the big screen. At the same time, it was done with the right balance. It’s definitely a priority to include that, but it didn’t feel forced, and they also knew when to hold back, if only to space them out a bit. So people hoping for some brutal kills will be satisfied here. The visual effects aren’t that great (something brought down by the lower budget), but I thought they were good enough for this movie, especially the ice effects. Something that does bring down the action scenes a bit was the editing. Thankfully it wasn’t in a Taken 3 sort of way where it has 10 cuts within 4 seconds of an action scene. It was more like that sometimes it quickly cuts from one fight to another fight, it does this a bit too much and it just felt jarring. Benjamin Wallfisch composes the score, and while it isn’t as memorable or iconic as the music from the 90s movie, it still works well enough here.

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Mortal Kombat is not a great movie, I would not confidentially call it a good movie either. It’s a bit of a mess in many areas including the story and even some of the technical aspects. With that said, I enjoyed it quite a lot. The fight scenes are energetic and satisfying, the Mortal Kombat characters are portrayed well and enjoyable to watch, and the silliness really added to the whole experience. If you are a fan of Mortal Kombat, I do think that you’ll have some fun with this. If you aren’t a fan but enjoy action movies and don’t mind them being a bit messy, I think you’ll at least like some of it. I’m actually looking forward to a sequel, I just hope they learn the right lessons from this movie.

Mortal Kombat (1995) Review

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Christopher Lambert as Raiden
Robin Shou as Liu Kang
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung
Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage
Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade
Talisa Soto as Princess Kitana
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson

Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert) handpicks three martial artists — federal agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), Shaolin monk Lui Kang (Robin Shou) and action movie sensation Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) — and mentors them. After intense training, Rayden transports the trio to Outworld, the site of an inter-dimensional fighting tournament. There, the three humans must defeat the demonic warriors of the evil Shang Sung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) — or allow Sung to take over the Earth.

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The Mortal Kombat games left such an impact on video games, mostly with the excessive gore and blood that other fighting games at the time didn’t have. In 1995, Mortal Kombat got its own movie adaptation by Paul W.S. Anderson and to this day it’s generally considered to be one of the better video game movies, but that’s not saying much. Looking at the movie as a whole, it’s not particularly good but its entertaining enough (intentionally or otherwise) that it doesn’t really matter.

Mortal Kombat’s story is basic and easy to follow, it follows a basic pattern, two people fight, Christopher Lambert’s Raiden drops exposition, repeat until the third act. There’s really not much to say about the plot, its simple and cliched and nothing new. It still is somewhat entertaining however. Mortal Kombat is very over the top. Having played two of the most recent Mortal Kombat games, I can say that the characters are somewhat similar, they are mostly 2 dimensional but they aren’t given much depth in the games either. The dialogue is laughably terrible a lot of the time as well, the writing isn’t good at all. It’s the entertainment factor that really makes the movie watchable. Mortal Kombat is not too long, with it being an hour and 40 minutes long. It doesn’t really get boring, as long as you know what you’re in for.

The actors aren’t the best and aren’t particularly good for the most part but they do their roles well enough. From the two Mortal Kombat games that I played, they seemed to suit the roles well, however that’s all I can really say about them with a couple exceptions. Christopher Lambert as Raiden is perfect casting and was the standout to me.

Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t that great of a director from what I can tell but he does enough here for Mortal Kombat to be entertaining. The stunts in the fight sequences are pretty standard and nothing special. Thankfully you can actually see what’s going on and its not edited so that they’re incomprehensible, and at times they are over the top enough that they are entertaining. Despite the fight scenes being very over the top however, there isn’t really any blood whatsoever. This is a little bit of a problem, as the reason that the Mortal Kombat games got noticed so much (at least in the 90s) was the blood and gore, so it feels like the movie is really lacking something. No doubt this was a studio mandated decision to increase the amount of viewers as Paul W.S. Anderson had directed some bloody and violent movies. Some of the visual effects are decent enough (for its time at least), other effects are pretty terrible. The character of Goro (who is a monsterlike character with 4 arms) is completely practical, and while I’m fully aware that it would look terrible had it been in CGI, it looks very clunky and fake. There is a lot of slow motion used, to the point of ridiculousness. The music was good and really add to the movies and scenes, especially the main theme.

Mortal Kombat is not that good but it is entertaining at least. The acting for the most part is subpar, the effects haven’t aged well, it’s really cheesy and while it’s not a huge problem, the lack of the blood and gore really feels out of place. Yet it has parts that really work, some of the chesesiness can be entertaining (intentional or not) and the action scenes are mostly enjoyable. If you like the Mortal Kombat games, you might enjoy this movie. When I first watched Mortal Kombat, I personally didn’t watch play the games myself (although I knew of some of the characters) and I still enjoyed the movie quite a bit. So if you’re willing to watch a simple and cliched yet entertaining action movie, Mortal Kombat might do it for you. I think there’s some potential for a modern day Mortal Kombat movie to really work, hopefully we get that one day.