by Shaun Rousso
“Mortal Kombat” is a film based off the hit video game franchise of the same name, which tells the story of a tournament (called Mortal Kombat) between “Earthrealm” and “Outworld” that determines the fate of both realms. The film focuses on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a new character created for the film, as he learns about his destiny to help defend Earthrealm against the evil forces of Outworld. Over the course of the film, we meet a slew of characters from across all installments of the beloved video game franchise, and witness as they fight and (of course) brutally slaughter one another. What ensues is a bloody mess of delightful gore and not-so-delightful writing.
There are some very strong elements of this film. Most prominently, the visual effects are astounding. There are a few instances, typically involving fully computer-generated character models, where they fall short, but mostly they look stunning. Standouts in this department include Sub-Zero’s (Joe Taslim) ice, Scorpion’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) fire, and nearly all the fatalities, violent attacks performed after defeating an opponent that “finishes them” in grotesque ways. Had these effects not been up to par, the entire movie would have crumbled and felt like a complete waste. Luckily, not only did they meet expectations, but they exceeded them.
In fact, the entire film looks outstanding. From the first sequence, the rich production design and cinematography work to pull in the viewer. Not every setting is as intricate as it could be, but most of them exceeded the bland sets that plague the world of typical action blockbuster films. Similarly, the cinematography has more care put into it than many films of similar caliber. This particularly rang true for the action sequences. In several instances, the takes were longer and more thought out than in many other action films, forgoing the bland and incomprehensible jump-cut riddled scenes present in those types of movies. Similarly, the stunt choreography felt more meticulous and unique than that of many other comparable films. Sadly, in many other sequences, the film relied on the typical tiring and infuriating action scene techniques.
The main issues with the film arise from the screenplay. The story beats did not feel as if they arose from any actual motivation. The characters just moved from place to place with thinly veiled reasoning just because the script was trying to set up another fight. If the film had leaned into the lack of a motivated plot more, it may not have come off as an issue, but it did not fully commit, striking an unfortunate balance between self-aware and painfully oblivious. For example, a character discovers his special ability because he feels passionately about an egg roll. At this moment, it feels like the screenwriters knew they were making a silly movie and really leaned into it. But in other moments, like when a major character develops their special ability off screen (after having built up the plot line for a while), it feels like the writers wanted to do something cool as a sort of surprise, but they just produced a disappointing moment. Additionally, the characters are unbelievably bland. Cole, the protagonist, instantly goes along with everything he is told. When Cole is informed that he was chosen to defend “Earthrealm,” he essentially shrugs and accepts it, despite being someone who has no experience with anything out of the ordinary. None of the other characters are much better. The most character development anyone in the film experiences is one who loses his arms, gets them immediately replaced with no consequences, and then has the new arms grow stronger.
As someone who has played the Mortal Kombat games, I still felt no connection to any of the characters (outside of the occasional, “wow that’s *insert character name*”). That being said, it’s an exceptionally fun movie to watch for the purpose of making fun of it. If you are planning to pop this in (or rather, scroll to it on HBO Max) with a bunch of friends and joke about the silly writing choices, I highly recommend it. You will forget everything about the movie, but it will be a very entertaining two hours. However, if you plan to watch it hoping to experience the peak of cinema, maybe choose a different film. All in all, while the script feels lower effort than writing your own name, the visuals are outstanding and under the right circumstances, it is a very fun film to watch.