Directed by Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat (2021) follows a group of chosen warriors from Earth and other worlds, trying to eliminate each other before they face off in a mythical combat tournament that will determine their fate.
Depending on your expectations, Mortal Kombat (2021) can either be exactly what you wanted or another mediocre video game movie. On one hand, it is full of well-choreographed action sequences with uneven, but mostly good CGI. On the other hand, it’s barely a self-contained story that just serves as a backdrop for people to find excuses to fight. Not to forget the corny dialogues and highly inconsistent performances across the cast. I, however, had a fun time with the film and despite some objective criticisms, I went in expecting exactly what I got. Yes, a studio like WB could have put more effort into the script and the characters. However, considering how the movie blazes past its entire runtime, jumping from fight to fight with barely any dull moments, it’s clear where their priorities lie. At a budget of merely $55 million, this movie is better than expected.
Spam just one move
The highlight of the movie, by far, is the combat. There is plenty of that and the movie tries its utmost to jump from one to the next as soon as possible. Action scenes are well edited with takes long enough to establish each hit and the choreography is comprehensive. CGI and practical effects blend much better than expected with some occasionally distracting moments. For example, some very poor green screen work proceeds a notably gruesome and iconic scene. Raiden’s thunder and eyes feel at least 10 years old in terms of visual effects. I might not understand visual effects, but I do know how well Thor’s eyes light up in the MCU Movies. Despite all that, there is a good connection between the real and virtual. That is particularly evident in a great fight scene between the lead character and a full CG creature around halfway through the movie.
The casting has been great. Nearly everyone fits their role perfectly apart from maybe a couple of characters. Josh Lawson as Kano is the highlight, driving nearly all the humor in the movie, which is plenty. Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim are excellent as the iconic Mortal Kombat rivals despite not being given much to work with.
Don’t fix what ain’t broke
WB’s idea of introducing a fresh character with Cole Young feels like it comes from good intentions. He is the emotional anchor of the movie with probably the most to lose. However, a character of such importance needs a good actor and better powers than he has. Lewis Tan’s performance feels very one-note with very minimal range, let alone any dramatic effect. If that wasn’t bad enough, his powers feel creatively weak in the face of enemies with acid, lasers, plasma beams, fire, and cybernetic arms. Only time will tell how well he fares against them.
The script is, to no one’s surprise, the weakest part of the film. All that talk about a tournament that is supposed to determine everyone’s fate never happens. It’s probably saved for a sequel, but the film didn’t need to tease it to the extent it did. Audiences by now are more than enough interested to just watch characters build up. Establishing what the movie was going to be from the beginning wouldn’t have made the final act feel like a bait and switch.
Mortal Kombat (2021) focuses on what made the games popular in the 90s and neglects nearly everything that makes a story engaging. Depending on what you expect going in, it can either be tons of dumb fun or another disappointing video game movie.