Mortal Kombat (2021)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/23/21 09:02:07
I suppose I should probably confess upfront that I harbor no particular nostalgia towards “Mortal Kombat” in either its video game or big screen incarnations from the 1990s. Regarding the former, I no doubt threw a few quarters into it while killing time waiting for a movie to begin but only if there wasn’t a better game available in the lobby—something like “Smash TV” or that “T2” adaptation. As for the movies, I vaguely recall seeing the original 1995 film, the first game-to-screen adaptation by Paul W.S. Anderson, the only thing I really remember about it was the bizarre decision to take a game that was primarily famous for its graphic and over-the-top violence and transform it into a blandly innocuous work that strained to achieve its PG-13 rating. As for 1997’s “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation,” even I had better things to do than sit through that one and nothing that I have seen or read about it over the years has caused me to question that particular life choice for even a second. Now, after years of rumors, false starts and legal issues, a new cinematic endeavor, cunningly entitled “Mortal Kombat,” is upon and if you are looking for a review that will explore in granular detail the ways in which it fits in with the franchise and its legacy, I would gently suggest that over the next couple of days, you should be able to easily find hundreds of reviews that will perform that task more effectively than I possibly could and you should probably look to them instead.That said, while I may know little to nothing about the history of “Mortal Kombat,” I think that I have seen enough martial arts films over the years to at least be able to recognize the difference between a good one and a bad one and this one leans quite heavily in the latter direction. Yes, the film is slickly made and is certainly grisly enough to live up to its name and if that is all you require from a “Mortal Kombat” movie, then it will probably prove to be satisfying enough for you. As for myself, I cannot say that I went into it with any particularly elevated expectations but while I admire the decision to go the R-rated route instead of watering things down to a more commercially viable PG-13, it doesn’t really do much to help make the film more than what it is—an expensive version of the kind of dopey chop socky (as they used to call them back in the day) exercise that might have once played the middle of one of the kung-fu triple bills that used to play the McVickers Theatre in its waning days and only then during a slow release period.
There is a lot of backstory on display here that will presumably mean something to fans of the franchise while leaving newcomers scratching their heads and wondering what the hell is going on for much of the duration. Suffice it to say, a series of inter-dimensional deathmatches between the evil jerks of Outworld, led by the soul-sucking Shang Tsung (Chin Han), and Earthrealm has not been going well for our team—with a 9-0 advantage over Earthrealm, Outworld needs only one more victory to be declared champion and therefore not just go to Disneyland but conquer it and everything else. There is hope, however—an ancient prophecy suggests that the descendants of former Earthrealm champion Hanzo Hasashi, who can be identified by a mysterious dragon marking on their bodies, could unite into a force strong enough to finally send Outworld packing. (This makes you wonder what the point of the first 9 matches was, but this is not the kind of film where you want to ask such questions.) Having previously killed Hanzo centuries earlier, Shang Tsung sends his minions out to destroy those descendants to ensure Outworld’s victory once and for all.
Enter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former MMA champion now ekes out a meager living getting smacked around in cage matches while his daughter, who is also his corner person, helpfully advises “Use the uppercut!” After another failed match, he is visited by Jax (Mechad Brooks), a Special Forces soldier who also bears the dragon mark that Cole thinks is just a birthmark. Later that night, Jax saves Cole and his family from an attack by the fearsome Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) and send him off in search of his partner, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who is helping him track down other Hanzo descendants to train for the big battle. Alas, the recruitment doesn’t add up to much—Sonya is not technically a descendant and the only other recruit is an Australian d-bag, Kano (Josh Lawson), who only got his powers by killing the person who actually possessed them. Eventually, they turn up at a faraway locale where Earthrealm leader Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) try to mold them into a fighting unit, even though Kano is a jerk, they forbid Sonya from taking part, Jax turns up armless from his encounter with Sub-Zero and Cole struggles to find his “arcana,” the hidden inner power that those with the dragon marking possess that allows them to burst forth with an orgy of CGI effects whenever the script requires it.
Of course, no one goes to a film like “Mortal Kombat” for the plot intricacies—they go to see people pounding the crap out of each other in increasingly goofy and brutal ways. However, the filmmakers have made the bizarre decision to not only make the narrative far too convoluted for its own good, at least for those unfamiliar with the games, but to treat the enterprises with the kind of straight-faced solemnity that ensures that every scene is fraught with portent in the manner of Christopher Nolan’s approach to his Batman films. As it turns out, debuting director Simon McQuoid is not quite the same caliber of filmmaker as Nolan and the result is a film that takes itself far too seriously for its own good. (Again, I do not recall that much about Anderson’s film but I remember enough to know that “taking itself too seriously” was not one of its sins.) Throw in characters that seem underdeveloped even by video game standards, deeply questionable performances across the board and fight sequences that, while certainly gory enough, are so indifferently staged and executed that they all pretty much blend into each other after a while and the result is a film that is a real slog to sit through at times.That said, I have already confessed my general lack of knowledge of most things related to “Mortal Kombat”—ignorant enough that I spent about fifteen minutes trying to work up a Kylie Minogue joke until I finally realized that it was the equally lame film version of “Street Fighter,” and not “Mortal Kombat,” that she actually appeared in back in the day. And yet, I find it hard to believe that even the hardcore fans of the franchise would be satisfied with what they have been given this time. This is a film that is so concerned with creating its world and setting up future sequels that it evidently ran out of the time, energy and inspiration to create a story or characters interesting enough to fill that world and inspire enough excitement to warrant further installments. That said, “Mortal Kombat” may still go down in history anyway—while I am no historian in these matters, I do believe that this is the first martial arts film ever made centered around a character named Cole. Roger Ebert once invented “The Cole Rule,” which stated that “No movie made since 1977 containing a character with the first name ‘Cole’ has been any good,” and, unlike Shang Tsung and the fighters of Outworld, it remains undefeated to this day
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|