Mortal Kombat (2021)

This movie is a ton of goofy fun. It’s based on a video game series that revolves around fighting and very gory kill scenes and cheesy catch phrases and it does not give a fuck about you or your grandma. 

Given that this movie was made to bring the game to a different entertainment medium, I can cut it quite a bit of slack. I don’t expect Oscar winning performances, I don’t hold them to moving dialogue, and I didn’t even go in considering the soundtrack. I just wanted two hours where my brain shut up and watched some bullshit. If you keep your expectations at that level, then you’ll have a ton of fun. This movie is much better than I expected. 

Of Men and Lizards

The main character is extremely blah, and I didn’t realize that he wasn’t based off a real character from the games, but I was able to deduce that nearly everyone else in the movie was a real character. It’s a very male-centric movie, but it in no way sexualizes women, which was a nice touch. 

It’s sad, but my standards for this type of movie are low enough that I braced myself every time any of the women appeared on screen, ready for some stupid faux-pas token feminist afterthought scenes. Instead, we actually got a fairly gender-neutral product. You can argue that the movie is slightly racist because the women of color play the bad guy demon screech ladies, and both of the women in the good guy camp were caucasian women, but I want to counter with two points on sexism and racism.

First, Sonya Blade, a good guy, is as white as can be, but I’d argue that this casting decision was because they wanted to remain true to her video game counterpart. At least for the first movie in what I’m assuming is a series, it would make sense if you remained grounded in your casting and characters, before breaking from the source material to create something or someone new. I’m not sure, but I have a feeling there are other female fighters in this game universe, and even if there aren’t it’s not hard to craft a new character of color. Sonya doesn’t do or say anything that feels like it’s pandering to women, and none of the other characters even mention her gender (except Kano, but I’ll get to him in a second). Cole’s wife isn’t a complete damsel in distress, except in the final scene where she is. The movie suffers from series editing issues, and I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that a lot of the wife’s development was cut. 

Another gracious point of neutrality is that none of the Asian characters are stereotyped or caricatured, which, again, for a movie like this, exceeds my very low standards. Even the token douchebag Kano doesn’t make fun of them being who they are, which is important when you have a bully on screen. If your on screen bully chooses humor based on someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality, that’s a reflection of the writers and the things they find humorous and acceptable to make fun of. That’s a bad, bad look. It’s not easy, but it isn’t impossible to have a jerk on screen who finds other things to make fun of people for.

So it’s not a race thing, and not really a gender thing either. Thank god it’s not a sexuality thing because I would’ve changed my entire stance if they pulled a whole, “Hey our badass woman character is lesbian. Pride!”

The Video Game Movie Problem

It’s an interesting challenge to craft a story that involves pre established players and their backstories and turn it into a movie that makes sense, but they did it and it actually works great. The excitement they intended to garner for a lot of these characters was palpable, and if you stop taking yourself seriously, you can easily get hyped and excited for some of the stuff that happens in the movie. There’s cheesy one liners, catch phrases and some dumbass goofyass crap that you cannot help but chuckle at.

There was this dude in my theater who jumped out of his chair and whooped every time the hat dude came on screen, and I sort of felt that hype even without the fanboy (or drunk dude) helping me figure out when something happened that referenced the games. 

I remember how Assassin’s Creed had a difficult time convincing audiences (and at times itself) that the movie was legit and the video game could be adapted to a new medium. The key is that you’ve got to pick and choose when to acknowledge that your source material is goofy and lean into it. Falling for that trap that you feel that whatever you’re making has to fit into the mould of all the other movies in the action fantasy genre only leads to a jarring shift in tone and immersion. You don’t have to adapt, because video game movies can be their own genre.

Your characters are capable of some wacky shit, so let them be capable of that without toning it down or trying to explain it. If the dude wants to be called ‘Sub Zero’, then fuck it. That’s his name and that’s the movie you signed up for. You don’t have to try to get all fancy pants with your science memory explanation bullshit like Assassin’s Creed wasted so much time with. The dude’s name is now Scorpion, shut up and deal with it. I mean, Cole literally points at the title of the movie, and says, “This is a joke, right? You even spelled it wrong.” That takes balls, and that line alone shifted my entire outlook on the movie and the way it was made. 

Mortal Kombat has its shortcomings, and the first act is especially weak, but again, this is guaranteed because of the editing. The new character they introduced to help audiences feel personified and represented was fairly weak in construction and development, and his importance in the movie felt forced. 

When you have a fantasy film that introduces a new world and its mythos to a largely uninitiated audience, it helps to have a normal, relatable character to keep things approachable for the audience. I mean it’s not a secret, right? It’s a common trope to have this protagonist then be introduced to the mythos with the audience, so as the character learns, the audience can very naturally experience that exposition and world building. Harry Potter is new to the wizarding world, Luke didn’t know shit about the Force, and Cole is now learning about Mortal Kombat. 

So for us to care and keep caring, Cole has to be first and foremost in the story, driving the plot, remaining focused on the goal and then resolving the action climax. For better or for worse, we don’t get that. Instead, we get a potential icon.

Kano

Ok, this is a dude who’s introduced in just about the middle of the movie, and as far as that goes, Mortal Kombat has a habit of introducing new characters at a steady pace throughout the first and second acts. It’s really cool because that’s sort of how video game progression works, and it’s not an easy thing to do when audiences expect not to have to learn about new characters so often past the first act. Again, have a bit of patience and let them play around with trying to adapt a video game to a movie. Looking at it from just that lens, it’s actually a really cool mechanic of the movie. Anyways.

Kano is a great example of a character remaining absolutely brilliant the entire time he’s on screen. He’s arrogant, brutish, insecure, macho, greedy and potty mouthed. He’s amazing. Kano is the perfect anti hero and he does not give a flying lazer fuck about your medical issues. He spends his first half of screen time being a belligerent asshole over and over and over and it’s so much fun watching everyone being forced to put up with his shit. And then he gets a fucking lazer eye and calls someone a pussy and if that doesn’t convince you to watch this movie, then you need to unclench. 

The Editing

I want to give it a higher rating, I really, really do, but the editing and the first act are just such a distraction that the rest of the genius that is Mortal Kombat suffers. To reiterate some points, the first act bounces around and through some basic story sets. Down on his luck hero, connection with his daughter, love for his family. Then things get choppy, all the way up to the training montage portion of the film, and it’s so jarring to have to watch that shit unfold. I want to care about Cole, I want to know what he thinks of invisible lizards. In fact, that whole lizard fight is so poorly serviced, it’s so frustrating to see past the veil and know exactly what was cut. It’s depressing to watch. 

If you can tell that they cut a simple shot of the lizard getting punched, then you start to wonder, what other ‘boring’ stuff did they cut? I’m confident that there were scenes of emotional gravitas and character building between Cole and the other characters that were cut. 

There’s a very awkward sequence of the trio traveling from one location to another, and it’s such a disservice that their arrival and connection with a new character was based on coincidence. It was such a stupid sequence of events that I was able to figure out a more logical progression as I watched it. I’m not saying I can make a better movie than them, but hear me out.

Sonya explains that she’s been investigating Mortal Kombat. Lizard fight. Kano says he knows where it is and leads them to the place, then gets lost in the desert. Kano pisses off Sonya, she kicks his ass. Cole is. Liu Kang appears at a random location in the desert, and then takes them to the actual macguffin place. This was trash. No logic, and no one does anything, they just sort of… stumble.

Here’s a better sequence of events. Sonya explains she’s investigating Mortal Kombat. Kano says he knows where it is and they fly to the desert. Kano gets them lost. Kano pisses off Sonya, she kicks his ass and takes the GPS. Sonya leads them to the macguffin place, and her character is redeemed by having accomplished her goal. Liu Kang is waiting for them at the entrance of the place, and says they have earned the right to be there because they found the place. 

It’s that easy. No illogical, nonsense, running in circles, relying on coincidence bullshit. This is a minor point, but it bothered me.

6/10

I want more Kano. I want a movie about Kano. I want Kano overload. Kano is to Mortal Kombat as Deadpool is to the MCU. Let the movie be a video game adaptation, lean into it and assblast your way through some mindnumbing, campy gore that doesn’t care how stupid it is. Despite all of that, Mortal Kombat is pure entertainment with a dash of surprising storytelling enginuity. “The fuck?” – Kano. IYKYK.

This movie is out in theaters, and streaming on HBOMax

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