Mortal Kombat Movie Review
Updated: May 5, 2021
Mortal Kombat is playing now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
From first-time director Simon McQuoid comes Mortal Kombat, an adaptation of the beloved game series of the same name. The movie follows Cole Young, a family man who fights to make ends meet. He is soon whisked into an adventure where he finds himself on a quest to save the world from invasion. Sound familiar?
As somebody who hasn't played the games and has very little background knowledge with the exception of some character names, this critique will be focusing on the cinematic quality of the film, as opposed to accuracy to the source material's story. Like many other video game adaptations, Mortal Kombat seems to fall into the trope of style over substance. Far too much of the story is clearly only present to set up moments of fan service and leaves the entire production feeling robotic, corporate, and lifeless.
The largest issue with this movie is the characters. Not only does the action start before the audience gets a chance to become acquainted with anybody, but there is also no emotional development from start to finish. This results in nothing but two-dimensional characters with stale relationships that the viewer is expected to feel something for. Instead, every character ends up as nothing more than a vessel for fight scenes.
Furthermore, the dialogue doesn't do the actors any favors. Most do a decent enough job, particularly Josh Lawson's Kano, who steals every scene he's in with charisma and the only competent writing in the entire film. Everything else either falls into the category of textbook action movie lines that have been done to death, fan service, or piles of exposition dumping that never pays off, until the inevitable sequel.
Speaking about the story, the movie actually started quite promising, focusing on an exchange between Hiroyuki Sanada's Hanzo and Joe Taslim's Bi-Han, taking place 400 years before the main story. Alternatively, had the movie chosen to focus on their rivalry, it could have done far better in terms of character and world-building, seeing as Hanzo had clear and compelling motivations from the getgo. Unfortunately, that wasn't the direction they took, instead focusing on a ragtag group of people gearing up to go on an adventure, changing their world forever, a motif that's been done a thousand times before.
Luckily, the saving grace of this movie is, of course, the action. It's as bloody and brutal as any long-time fans would have hoped, and a vast majority of the choreography is spot on. While some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences would have benefitted from wider shots to allow the movement to shine, the up-close-and-personal perspective McQuoid opted for works well enough, save for some sloppy editing, and in some instances provides for some sorely-needed tension. Many of the battles in the film feature CGI opponents, and they make impressive use of their moderately small budget for a project of this scale, minus some horrendous green-screening.