Based on the popular video game series of the same title, Mortal Kombat serves as a reboot to the film series after spending almost twenty years in development hell. Directed by Simon McQuoid, 2021’s Mortal Kombat tells the story of a washed-up MMA fighter who is unaware of his hidden lineage, or why he is being hunted down by Sub-Zero of the Lin-Kuei clan of assassins. Concerned for the safety of his family, he seeks out a team of fighters who were chosen to defend Earthrealm in a high-stakes battle against the forces of Outworld. Mortal Kombat Review
Stealing practically every scene he’s in, Joe Taslim’s take on Bi-Han, the first Sub-Zero, is absolutely riveting to watch. Exuding an intimidating on-screen presence, Sub-Zero is brought to life through Taslim’s remarkable performance and visually captivating computer-generated special effects. Aside from Taslim, the film is also elevated through the performances of Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano, with both of them playing Scorpion and Raiden, respectively. With its cast of mostly Asian actors, Mortal Kombat is relatively faithful to its source material in the casting department, especially when compared to 2017’s Ghost in the Shell.
Often regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time, one of Mortal Kombat’s defining aspects is its over-the-top and bombastic use of violence and gore. Surprisingly, despite its hard-R rating, 2021’s Mortal Kombat is significantly toned-down in contrast to its source material. While the film is still recognisable through its use of gore and violence, it feels more grounded when compared to its source material (as grounded as a modern-day Mortal Kombat live-action adaptation can be). On the flip side, this decision might not sit well with purists of the video game series or even casual moviegoers hoping to see more R-rated worthy action sequences.
The action sequences of Mortal Kombat varies from scene to scene as it ranges from extremely choppy to excellent. For a significant section of the film, the fight sequences are edited with fast cutting technique, which is undoubtedly frustrating for action-adventure moviegoers. Instead of serving as culminations of dramatic tension, the fight sequences of the film come across as unimaginative at times. Why learn a lengthy choreography when you can do thousands of jump cuts? That being said, the climatic fight sequence is very well executed, with the film finally finding the right balance direction, character, and fight choreography.
In terms of its narrative, Mortal Kombat’s bare bones structure makes for a straightforward story. However, its second act is severely bogged down by expository dialogue, thus damaging the pacing of the film. Unlike video games, the film adaptation does not have over 20 hours of gameplay at its expense to flesh out its worldbuilding and characters. As a result, characters of the film often act as expository machine, condensing important information such as backstories, character motivations, and worldbuilding into what is essentially, forced exposition.
For the longest time, there is an unspeakable curse in Hollywood that prevents the film industry from providing satisfying content based on video game properties. Whether it’s Assassin’s Creed, Super Mario Bros., or Tomb Raider, film adaptations of video game properties have always struggled in reproducing the same success they enjoy in their original form. While Mortal Kombat does not necessarily break the curse, it represents a step in the right direction, and each step forward is worth celebrating.
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