Mortal Kombat (2021)

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 04/23/21 14:29:48

"Finish him."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Twenty-four years ago, I had to sit through the follow up to one of the few successful movies based on a video game. Like its predecessor, it lacked the grisly violence of the game, but it had nothing to offer that could replace it.

To say that the 2021 film edition of Mortal Kombat is better than Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is like saying one Kardashian sister is superior to the others. In both movies, the characters are thin, and the storyline makes little sense without a familiarity with the game. There’s also a sense of “we’ll fix it in post” with the way some of the creatures are presented. Some of the multi-limbed monsters are move vividly realized in the game.

While I won’t compare this installment to a specific Kardashian sibling (pick the one you like), I will say a few things have improved in the new movie. Australian director Simon McQuoid cut his teeth making commercials for H&R Block and Nissan, so he knows how to make a striking opening. He creates a stylized recreation of feudal Japan and also knows how to properly stage fights.

Too many American filmmakers don’t seem to understand it’s best to keep the camera still when actors or stunt performers are pummeling each other or leaping in ways that flesh and bone aren’t expected to move. Perhaps it’s a sign of lowered expectations, but it’s oddly refreshing to be able to follow fisticuffs, even when CGI effects aren’t involved.

Considering how the game used to fill Senators with outrage, it shouldn’t be surprising that the new film, unlike its predecessors, is R-rated and features the gore that make parents cringe. Because it’s Mortal Kombat and not Reasoned Debate, it’s ludicrous to expect anything else.

Once Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) defeats the great ninja Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the villain who can kill people with either swords or his ability to form ice crystals gloats over his achievement. He’s killed both the ninja and his family.

Because he can slip in and out of Outworld, he’s got several centuries to celebrate.
Fortunately for Earth, he didn’t find Hanzo’s infant son, and several generations have passed. Then again, maybe Sub-Zero can relax because Hanzo’s descendant Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is less of an MMA fighter and more of a human speed bag. At this state in his career, Cole’s purpose in life seems to be little more than a sparring partner for better fighters.

Nonetheless, he’s got the rare mark designating him as destined to defend our planet in a Mortal Kombat tournament. With guidance from Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), Cole goes through a crash course on how to win against otherworldly creatures who have multiple limbs or who can do things only X-Men could. The deadline for the showdown is immediate, so the learning curve is steep.

It’s hard to get worked up over the combatants because their backstories are so thin. None have much to saw for themselves except for how they fight. The most interesting character in this installment is Kano (Josh Lawson), a tough Australian who is as cynical as he is lethal. Because it’s impossible to determine if he’s friend or foe, there’s some suspense with him that none of the other characters have.
No, I wasn’t expecting a Mike Leigh character study here, but most martial arts films feature characters growing and changing in between fights. While Cole inevitably improves, it’s just about impossible to figure out how.

At least the production on this installment seems superior than the one I endured a quarter century ago, it gave my TV and my soundbar a good workout, but it sure could have given me the same rush I feel when I play a game.

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