Mortal Kombat (2021): Cinema That Makes You Wish You Were Elsewhere
A franchise with a formula that stretches thin as a movie. Expect to be bored long before the credits roll.
If you are a fan of the series, or just of action or superhero films in general, some parts of Mortal Kombat will be fun. The action sequences are competently made, with good effects, big budget camera work, and Impressive Things Happening on the screen. About half-way through the movie’s run time, though, chances are you will start to wish you were some place else. Like at home, on the couch, playing the game instead.
The movie combines special effects, combat, and costumes (all of which are quite well done) with a “gives no fucks” attitude to storytelling that makes it hard to stay engaged for the duration of the film. Sure, parts of your brain are being stimulated by the spectacle of it… but so many other parts of your brain are screaming out in pain and boredom.
As a video game Mortal Kombat is cheesy, Americanised kung fu that Just Works. It’s fun as hell: gruesome, over-the-top visuals paired with a fast-paced, reflex-rattling fight game. Take the same formula out of its natural element and put on the big screen, though, and you have something short of an enjoyable two hour experience.
Components of the film are passable, but lazy storytelling makes it feel like a Frankenstein monster, parts assembled from all the obvious genres. Mortal Kombat should leave kung fu movies to others. And action movies. And superhero/fantasy movies. And storytelling, honestly. Trying something unconventional and creative and failing would be one thing, but this feels like a cynical “filmmaking by numbers” attempt to rake in some dollars on the back of the brand.
At some point an extended action sequence breaks out which never really ends, a sort of montage, and I think a lot of the story took place in there. I think some characters were introduced in the middle of it all. Some might have been both introduced and killed before it was over.
Less superficially flawed is the character of Kano. Casual sexism, homophobia, and racism are rolled into a character who is kind of a villain, but who the audience is positioned with probably more than any other character. He is given comic relief duties, a never-die attitude, and shown to be tough, courageous, cool in a crisis… festooned with attractive qualities to go with his toxic ones. This sends weird signals and feels like a wrong-headed approach to an anti-hero, since his most visible flaws are abusive ones that could be mistaken for part of his strength. Sonya Blade, the more natural choice to position the viewer behind, is oddly subdued at key moments, as if her role was dialled back. Putting Kano under the spotlight might be an attempt at “edginess” from a franchise with a reputation for controversy.
In any case, as a movie Mortal Kombat feels off-point, lazy, and tedious. Nowhere near as much fun as it should, in a just world, be. As a video game, the formula works. It’s an obvious thing to say, but: it should stay in the cultural realm from whence it was begotten.
James Lanternman writes movie reviews, fiction, essays, and moonlit thoughts. Reach him at [email protected].