Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Written by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham, Oren Uziel
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Tadanobu Asano
Over the top violence in video games is nothing new. Games like Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil wore their audaciously violent gameplay as badges of honor. But few video game franchises truly revelled in carnage quite like Mortal Kombat. The 1992 arcade game took inspiration from martial arts films like Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport, and featured action so brutal it inspired the creation of the ESRB, a ratings board for video games. But while the game’s violence is what first garnered attention, it was its characters that led to a fanbase that endures to this day.
The plot to Mortal Kombat was simple to a fault: Earth is one of nine realms that must compete in a tournament. A tournament to decide which realm of those nine possesses the strongest fighters. But story was never the strength the game aimed for. Instead, Mortal Kombat relied on its colorful characters and satisfying displays of violence to make up for its lack of story. While the 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot succeeds in glorious displays of violence, some of its characters will leave viewers wanting.
The most glaring flaw in the cast is Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Cole is a character created for the film, intended to be an “everyman” type for audiences to relate to. Unfortunately, when paired with the other two main heroes (Liu Kang and Sonya Blade) it’s apparent that the heroes are deficient in one important area: charisma. The 1995 Mortal Kombat film also adapted the flamboyant Johnny Cage from the video game, adding some much-needed levity to the cast. Here, all of our main heroes are serious, self-possessed, and completely without humor. Only the hero Jax (Mehcad Brooks) possesses a somewhat-defined personality, but he is given much too little screentime to make an impression.
The villains fair little better. Only Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), a ninja with ice powers, feels memorable. The rivalry he holds with the ninja Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) is one of the film’s biggest highlights.
Indeed, if there’s one enormous highlight to the film, it’s the violence. Keeping in line with the game’s over-the-top tone, the violence on display here is bloody, cartoonish, and very satisfying to witness. If you walk into this film as a fan of Mortal Kombat, know that the film honors the series’ beloved fatalities with aplomb.
While the blood and gore of Mortal Kombat is amusing, it’s not enough to distract from the film’s deficiencies of character. In fact, last year’s animated film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, tells a stronger story in less time. This live-action Mortal Kombat reboot captures that which first made Mortal Kombat popular. But it doesn’t do nearly as much to capture what made it endure.