The rebooted “Mortal Kombat” film has been hyped for awhile and the hype has been boosted, ever since Warner Bros released the films red band trailer in all of it’s R rated goriness. The film has had quite the jump around on the release schedule, as it was originally scheduled to be released in March 2021, but was moved up to January 2021.
That is until producer Todd Garner confirmed in November of 2020, that the film would be delayed until theaters reopen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After Warner Bros announced that their entire 2021 slate would be released on HBO Max on the same date they hit theaters, the film was given a new release date of April 16th, 2021 to premiere in theaters and on HBO Max.
Well the day has come and fans of the long running “Mortal Kombat” video game franchise from Midway Games has a cause for celebration. And that goes not just to the fans of the game, but also fans of the martial arts genre. I’ve only played the “Mortal Kombat” video game casually throughout my childhood when it came out in 1992. I know it has a mixed following, but i actually do like the 1995 film adaptation and the two season run of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” which was a vast improvement over the 1995 film.
While the 1995 film was released theatrically, it was a box office success that offered a less than satisfying final result. Mainly because it was a PG-13 adaptation that contained zero blood to a video game that was infamous for it’s extreme violence. So now the “Mortal Kombat” of 2021 is making certain that game fans get what they deserve.
TV commerical director and now first time feature film director Simon McQuoid, has delivered all of the games trademark “fatalities” in all of their gory glory. Making his feature directing debut from a career in commercials, you’d think that the film would end up a disaster, but it really works. McQuoid has a talent as a director and he has shot the films fight scenes so cleanly that it’s safe to say that he has got himself a future as a film director.
With the participation of director and producer James Wan (“Furious 7”, “Death Sentence” and “Saw”). McQuoid, Wan and their team have foregone the original movies’ campy nature of the mid-90s and has taken the darker “Batman Begins” origins reboot route. About a week before the film premiered, Warner Bros released the first seven minutes of the film that takes us to 1617 Japan. We meet a renowned ninja named Hanzo (who fans know as Scorpion, played perfectly by the always great Hiroyuki Sanada “47 Ronin”), who loses his family to the villainous Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim “The Raid”).
We then shift to Hanzo’s descendant, an MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan “Into The Badlands”). Once a great fighter who has now lost his prowess in the ring. Cole bares a mysterious dragon mark that makes him of use to Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who pull him out of cage to help them fight in the Mortal Kombat tournament on behalf of the Earthrealm.
After some quickly rushed exposition. Cole has no hesitancy towards leaving his family behind to join in the quest that will bring them to other classic game characters as they make their way to the big tournament. Because you see only a select few can fight in the tournament. Only those who are marked with a tattoo that looks similar to the game’s iconic logo. And the gist is that if you kill a warrior who has the mark, that mark then transfers to you. Very “Highlander” if you ask me.
Director Simon McQuoid gives us an endless assortment of well choreographed, visceral and impressive fight sequences. There are deep cuts, gashes, gaping puncture wounds, dismemberments, beheadings, broken limbs, crushed skulls, split bodies, kinetic sword play and disembowelments. The violence is amped up to the level of the game’s signature violence that justifies the films earned R rating.
Despite the years of character history and world-building that McQuoid could draw upon, there isn’t much of a story at all. But like a lot of arguments from audiences and critics from the recent “Godzilla vs Kong”, that doesn’t matter right? Because all you want to do is see everyone fight right? Well none of the characters involved in “Mortal Kombat” 2021, whether it’s the good guys on Earth or the bad guys from the Outworld have any rhyme or reason for doing anything other than to battle over and win the Earth.
The motivation is that Earthrealm had lost the last 9 tournaments, while the tenth loss would mean that the Outworld gets to claim our realm. To look at it this way…for the beings of Outworld, led by the evil warlock Shang Tsung (Chin Han). It’s like getting nine punches on a card from your favorite burger place and the tenth punch gets you a free sandwich.
“Mortal Kombat” 2021, changes up the lead character from the 1995 film and instead of following fighter Liu Kang. McQuoid incorporates new character Cole Young, portrayed by Lewis Tan in his first lead role in a feature film. Lewis Tan is actually the son of national champion martial artists Philip Tan, who appeared in 1989’s “Batman”, “Tango & Cash” (he was the guy who Kurt Russell was having “English 101” with) and “Lethal Weapon 4” among many others.
Max Huang who plays Kung Lao, was trained by the one and only Jackie Chan as a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. Huang was able to confidently pitch ideas to make the choreography of “Mortal Kombat” more fluid and even used this background to help him retrain himself into Kung Lao’s martial arts style instead of his own.
One thing that McQuoid smartly does, is not taking itself too seriously. The humor of the script, is much needed and is presented as consistently funny one-liners by Josh Lawson as Kano. Who seems to be the only guy who is really having fun with it. Actor Darren Shahlavi was expected to reprise his role as Kano from the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” series and was interested in doing so, but he passed away before production began (the previous actor to play Kano in the 1995 film, Trevor Goddard had passed away in 2003). Before Lawson was casted, Joel Edgerton was the top choice to play Kano.
Interestingly enough while I was doing research for my review. I found that Vin Diesel, Megan Fox, Robin Shou, Daniel Wu, Scott Adkins, Jason Momoa, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Michael Jai White, Iko Uwais and Liam Neeson were all rumored to appear in the reboot as unspecified characters.
While McQuoid and his writers have gone to great lengths and details to show how each character gets their powers, scars, metallic arms and the likes. He is trying to be as faithful to the games as possible with as many references and callbacks, including catchphrases and fatalities. But for a movie that seems so reliant on making sure fans get what they want, I’m sure some fans might be a bit disappointed.
Particularly, due to the treatment of fan favorites Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who are both so front and center on the posters and trailers, more so than any of the other characters. While the two get a decent intro, the rest of the movie Sub-Zero is relegated to being a goon for Shang Tsung. Both Scorpion and Sub-Zero don’t get their re-match until the films last twenty minutes. But it’s absolutely worth the wait as their fight in a frozen over gym is the films highlight. McQuoid’s fatality moments, sense of humor and the general abundance of spewing blood is just what any fan of the game wants to see. This is “Mortal Kombat” the way it always should have been and I can’t wait for round 2. Yes, expect a sequel.
“Mortal Kombat” is an absolute achievement, more so than most video game adaptations. This is “Mortal Kombat” the way it always should have been that proves to be a “flawless victory”. It has an intent to wipe the slate of previous incarnations clean and set a precedent that it is possible to get great films based on video game properties.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)