It’s been a while since 1995’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ the first attempt to bring the hit game franchise to the big screen. That was a cheesy, funny, sometimes unintentionally, but enjoyable film that clearly struggled with its budget limitations. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, it boasted an excellent soundtrack and immortalised Cary–Hiroyuki Tagawa as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung with a great scene stealing performance. The actor returned to the role in Netherrealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games to not only voice the character but have his likeness appear in digital form.
2021’s Mortal Kombat from director Simon McQuoid has a bigger budget, better costumes, features the gore and viscera the games are known for and shows the advances of digital effects, despite this it’s a distinctly disappointing attempt at rebooting the franchise. This new Mortal Kombat film is a lot like early comic book films, where people were just supposed to be happy that a character that they knew was on the big screen, regardless of how good the actual film was.
This is a big case of style over substance. This Mortal Kombat has numerous moments that look great, a prologue set in 16th century Japan featuring Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) and Hanzo (Hiroyuki Sanada) is excellent, Kung Lao (Max Huang) making his entrance via teleporting through the floor, Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) conjuring up a huge flaming dragon , Raiden (Tadanobo Asado) appearing via a cluster of crackling lightning and more. The problem is as a whole this is a boring and unengaging slog of a film. A big chunk of its running time is devoted to a new character Cole Young (Lewis Tan), the least interesting of all the characters in the film, discovering he is one of Earthrealm’s champions.
Despite featuring a dozen or so characters from the games, the only ones that really stand out are Kano (Josh Lawson), who is essentially taking the comic relief place of the bafflingly absent Johnny Cage, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), who is excellent as a stoic and menacing villain, and Hanzo aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), who only appears in the prologue and the final scenes.
So much time is dedicated to Cole Young that characters like Liu Kang, who is one of Mortal Kombat’s original core characters, are relegated to being glorified background characters rendered flat and boring. There’s also the problem that Shang Tsung’s (Chin Han) plan hinges on killing Earthrealm’s champions before the Mortal Kombat tournament actually happens, despite this being against the rules put down by the completely absent Elder Gods.
‘Nobody who plays Mortal Kombat cares about the story!’ Many will no doubt declare, yet the story mode on the latest game is written considerably better than this turgid effort. This film seems to be written from the perspective that some good costumes, blood and viscera and the occasional impressive but all too brief scene can compensate for the lack of an engaging story, characterisation and a good script.