Wrong, just wrong. Please note that this is how I felt about the movie, and my expectations were very high. I am a fan of MK, I watched the old movies and enjoyed them (yes, even Annihilation), I played the original games, and currently own pristine copies of MK: Deadly Alliance and MK: Deception for PS2. My knowledge of the lore is not entirely in-depth, but I know most of the characters and their backgrounds.(Hell, I even remember “Mokap”!)
This is just to explain in more words that I love Mortal Kombat, and only wanted this to be good, but I felt let down for most of it. Let’s at least start with the good, which will be flecked with some bad too. There will be spoilers in this, although there isn’t much that can be spoiled really because knowing/not knowing some of the “twists” doesn’t change the impact of the story.(Spoiler warning…The guy with ice powers is Sub Zero!)
The opening scene was a display badassery involving my favourite MK character, and one of my other faves, as they duke it out in wondrous style. We get to see Hanzo Hazashi, played by the brilliant Hiroyuki Sanada, a familiar face when it comes to actors that can kick ass on screen, as he fights off attackers that appear around his home. This is also where Sub-Zero shows up with members of the Lin Kuei, but most of them are slaughtered when Hanzo goes full beast mode and starts throwing around a kunai attached to a rope, making damn sure we know who this guy is.He has a very well-choreographed, but decisively quick, fight against the cool assassin leader before losing his life and then disappearing whilst covered in what looks to be hell fire. Fans of MK will already know what this means and knowing that Scorpion appears on the promotional material it is more than reasonable to expect him to take part in this tournament in order to get his revenge. Before his wife and child were tragically murdered, they placed their baby daughter underneath the floorboards, covered up as much as possible, and would then be found by Raiden, the God of Thunder and protector of Earthrealm.(“Do babies and lightening mix”?)
Raiden shows a cool display of his teleporting power before taking off with the child and so starting off the movie in the right track. During the opening scene we are given a brief glimpse of some foreshadowing, a dragon shaped mark on Hanzo’s arm resembling the MK insignia. This was to be relevant when the movie then introduces its newest member, Cole Young, an MMA fighter that bears the same mark, leading one to believe that he may be that very child.
Unfortunately, that brilliant intro is followed by screen text, basically saying that Mortal Kombat is a tournament between worlds, and if Earth loses its 10th straight tournament then we’re all heading to destination “fucked”. It’s a poor attempt to summarise the basic premise of the story without properly showing its urgency. Why not have it narrated at the very beginning by Raiden? He is the overseer of Earthrealm and its warriors, let him tell the tales the rules set by the Elder Gods, show images of past failures, with illustrated visuals depicting the blood and gore, but also showing us how terrifying the enemy is. Make us believe that Earth is on its last knees and that it really needs to up its game, I don’t want to read anything after what I just seen.
(A cool touch with this scene)
The entire plot, which isn’t a secret, is based around Shang Tsung, the sorcerer supreme of Outworld, ordering his fighters to kill Earth’s chosen warriors to make the subjugation of Earthrealm that much easier. It is revealed that anyone bearing the dragon mark is to represent Earthrealm in the upcoming tournament, which also puts a target on them. This wouldn’t have been a bad direction to go in if it didn’t compromise the entire purpose of Mortal Kombat, which is to have a tournament that pits fighters from two realms against one another, but instead it’s more like a game of cat and mouse.
This is where Cole comes in, as the story follows him as he meets with the other players on the board and is quickly introduced to the lore, a little too quickly because the backstory of MK’s history is briefly expositioned by one of the other characters in a less-than-believable manner, and was rightly criticised by Cole. He already survived an attempt on his own life from Frosty the Angry Snowman, and is propelled into the world of death matches, where meets notable characters like Sonya Blade, Liu Kang and Kung Lao.
These heroes will then serve to explain to Cole what the fuck is going on as he gets the chosen one treatment, even though he isn’t the only chosen one, and has a lot more screen time than MK’s main chosen one (Liu Kang). He learns the dragon mark will also grant him superhuman abilities, like Liu Kang’s fireballs and Kung Lao’s really sharp Frisbee hat but must do a superhero training montage in the way of getting his ass whooped before discovering what he can do.(He’s like Cyclops…. except he’s less of a douche!)
In typical fashion of this kind of narrative he is never told how to use his abilities directly, saving some of the precious time he is continually reminded he doesn’t have, and instead must find his reasons to fight, which turns out to be the not-so-shocking defending his family from danger. Cole transforms from a washed up MMA fighter that has been on a continuous losing streak in small venue cockfights, a former champ that lost his edge for a reason we are never graced with learning, and he suddenly transforms into a badass with abilities that don’t improve his skill, but he just gets better anyway.(Typical “Chosen One” bullshit!)
Shang Tsung’s idea of killing the warriors rather than hosting a tournament, isn’t very smart. He calls the Elder Gods lazy as they can’t be bothered to intervene despite him breaking the rules they set up, but the only thing lazy is this writing. The Elder Gods would never be defied, and not by a frickin’ wizard, so it makes little sense to have a MK movie based on a hosted tournament, but without the tournament. If Shang Tsung truly did not care for the rules of the Elder Gods, then why not just invade Earthrealm without the need of fighting? Why bother killing off its heroes outside of the tournament in order to win by default, which is forbidden, if you can just go ahead and take over?(“Did you guys know we could just “invade”???)
His own involvement wasn’t even needed since they won the last 9 consecutive tournaments, although that was largely in part to the murder of Hanzo, who would likely have been a game changer. But for some reason, Shang Tsung insists on invading Raiden’s temple as the heroes train making threats to the Thunder God and his posse, which is a stupid move since Raiden could have called is bluff and sent him on his way, but he didn’t. Raiden is useless, as he is not permitted to directly engage, but at least in the original movie he had some presence, he was feared. Yet here, he has no intention of stopping Shang Tsung and his general demeanour is of one that has already given up.(“I may not be able to fight, but I CAN stare menacingly!”)
This is part of a severe lack of any character development as there isn’t any real arc, and too many known characters that weren’t important enough to warrant a backstory or any real representation of who they are. There were many obvious flaws in how the characters were portrayed that fell short of how well some were done in the original movie. Cole is new and gets dragged into all of this. He is the player created character that hears about what’s going down so that everything can be explained to new audience members. His past is a little ambiguous, his reasons for fighting are nothing more than he is told he has to, until he makes it a priority to protect his family, realises his heritage and then just suddenly fights with a purpose we never knew he lost (or at least how he lost it).(“You may have to speak slowly for my Dad…”)
The original had Johnny Cage try to prove that he wasn’t a fake, and he wanted to be taken seriously, but he had to step over his own ego and put others ahead of himself, which he did do. Sonya, in this 2021 release, only learns of the mark by chance and suddenly becomes Nancy Drew crossed with Batman and learns the entire plot of Mortal Kombat herself and takes it seriously without ever having been involved. She tags along and tries her darnedest to help, despite not being marked herself because she is partners with Jax.(“It says right here that you’re a little bitch Cole!”)
Poor Jax is left to heal, and is either growing, or given, skinny mechanical arms which he needs to train. Yes, he hits the fucking bags with metal skeleton arms to make them stronger……whaaaaaaaat? I don’t know how he got them, he’s being taken care of by monks, so either there is someone there with a degree in biomechanical engineering, if that’s a thing, or their magic can also create technology. His obstacle to overcome is just not giving up, and his mark grants him super buff robot arms, because that’s how it works, I suppose.(“The power of friendship Motherfucker!”)
Original Sonya was more interesting I think, her reason for fighting was to take down Kano after he killed her partner, but she needed to learn how to trust others, and she did. She also kicked major ass. Her fight scene with this Kano wasn’t too bad, but it didn’t have that personal touch. The enemies were just there, barely any lines, made to be imposing and with little reason to find them interesting.
MK is meant to be more about the fighting, and there is plenty of it, and some of it very gory and nasty, as it should be. But I found a lot of it disappointing too, because most of the fights suffer from too much editing, not enough back and forth, and weird camera positioning. I need to see all the action, not this stop and go feature where it switches back and forth between different perspectives. It makes the action look less impactful, despite trying to make it faster.(“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”)
Look at movies like Ip Man, Ong Bak and more to see how fights are done. The fights in the original were well choreographed, and everyone felt close to danger as they exchanged hits. Certain heroes should have performed much better considering their status, and when the crème de la crème of the MK universe struggle to beat a B villain, it takes away from their importance, and they are no longer the champions they are supposed to be. These villains didn’t do much fighting either, it was like watching those players that spam the special moves over and over and wind up doing better. Some fights weren’t too bad, but overall, they were lacking in their intensity.(Oh My God….the stakes are just so low!)
There is a lot more I could say and may be brought up if discussed in a future podcast, but ultimately, I couldn’t find enough reasons to enjoy this. It wasn’t very exciting, and despite some decent performances, it fell short of the high expectations it should have had. The director made a strange choice to leave out Johnny Cage, saying something about bringing him in the second movie, but instead we got a guy we never needed in Cole, which is a little ridiculous considering that JC is a fan favourite, he would have been a better fit than Cole.
I will say that in terms of comedy it doesn’t get better than Kano, he was an epic distraction, and a complete comedic menace. The best exchanges are between him and Kabal, both former Black Dragon mercenaries. I wish it could have been better, but there will be sequels as some cast members have signed contracts for future movies, and it does end with plenty of evidence of a continuation. This time though, it wasn’t a flawless victory, but a flawed loss, and a self-occurred fatality. Not to mention the outfits weren’t great, Sub-Zero’s mask was far too large and his armour looked like it was made from foam, Kabal had too much gear making it look uncomfortable to wear and Mileena’s teeth were far too small (with only a brief look at their true size). Hopefully the next instalment will be an improvement.