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October 2021

Mortal Kombat (Movie)

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Developer: New Line Cinema
Release Date: April 23, 2021


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Movie Review - 'Mortal Kombat'

by Adam Pavlacka on April 23, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth's greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

It's been a little over 25 years since the original "Mortal Kombat" debuted in theaters, and despite all that time, the film is still one of the best videogame-to-movie productions to hit cinema screens. This year's reboot attempts to recapture the magic but doesn't quite finish the job.

Unlike the original film, the "Mortal Kombat" reboot attempts to tell its story through the eyes of an all-new character, Cole Young (Lewis Tan). An average MMA fighter, Young makes money by literally taking a beating from others. After yet another match, he's approached by Jax, who comments on his dragon tattoo. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, Young is trying to save his family from Sub-Zero and then getting a quick history of the Mortal Kombat tournament from Sonya Blade.

If all of that sounds like an exposition dump, it's because it is. The "Mortal Kombat" reboot doesn't take the time to introduce its characters, nor does it work on developing them. It generally ignores the in-depth lore of the games, assuming that the viewer is already familiar with all of the characters. While this works on a basic level, it can leave lapsed fans wondering who some of them are or why their motivations and/or powers seem to differ from the games.

In an attempt to avoid some of the campiness that the original film fully embraced, "Mortal Kombat" tries to take a more serious tone, but this comes at the expense of the story. The reboot can't decide if it is the story of the Mortal Kombat tournament, the story of Scorpion and Sub-Zero, or if it is Young's story of self-discovery. This loss of focus is amplified by the number of characters thrown into the mix because few of them get any real level of development. Even Scorpion's years of torment in hell are glossed over in a few flashes.

Young's character development is another part that feels odd, in part because it seems to be nothing more than "keep my family safe." This extends to the self-discovery of his special power, which is — drumroll — to get stronger when he takes a beating. Yes, the half-Asian main character gets his power from getting beaten on by others. If the movie had a better script, this could have been a way to explore some deeper issues. As-is, it comes off as a bit tone-deaf.

One big exception to the lack of characterization is Kano. Josh Lawson does a fantastic job as the Australian mercenary, quite effectively channeling and amplifying the chaotic energy that Trevor Goddard originally brought to the role.

That said, all the story problems in the world wouldn't matter if the fight sequences were impressive throughout. After all, that's why we all came to see the movie. Unfortunately, this is another area where the reboot is left lacking.

It starts off well enough, with a sequence that has Young, Blade, and Kano all facing off against Reptile, but we don't see a good hand-to-hand combat sequence until near the very end of the film, when Scorpion and Sub-Zero finally let loose. The fights that we get are laden with special effects, which look impressive enough but lack physicality. Instead of seeing the fighters tear into one another, we're shown a lot of zipping around via magic, projectiles, or a winged vampire attacking from above. Compared to the Liu Kang vs Reptile fight in the original, what's here feels like a cheap imitation. It's not bad per se, and it's flashy enough, but it all looks superficial.

Superficial can also be used to describe the movie's score. "Mortal Kombat" has long been associated with techno, thanks to the theme song produced by The Immortals, and the first movie had a soundtrack that doubled as a "best of" EDM album at the time. Benjamin Wallfisch's score for the reboot is subtle in comparison, more often than not disappearing into the background rather than becoming part of the show.

There is one point, at the start of the film's climactic battle, when the opening bars of the theme song start to play, but it's a short riff that's akin to a fake-out. It's doubly disappointing because Wallfisch's updated take on Techno Syndrome is easily the best song on the soundtrack, and it doesn't even appear in the film (a modified version plays over the credits). When you have what is one of the genre-defining hype songs, why wouldn't you use it in the film?

Unsure if it was nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses coloring my view of the reboot, I went back and re-watched the original after screening the reboot. Aside from the incredibly dated CGI, the original is still the better film. There's a little less blood in the 1995 version (thanks to the PG-13 rating), but the locations are more varied, the fights are more visceral, and the soundtrack can't be beat. Putting the two side-by-side, the "Mortal Kombat" reboot is a lot like Shang Tsung: It has plenty of surface flash, but deep down, it lacks a soul of its own.

Score: 5.0/10

"Mortal Kombat" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hours and 50 minutes. It is showing on HBO Max and in local theaters where they are open.

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