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Video game adaptation 'Mortal Kombat' falls short of its predecessors

After being confined into development hell, the film now comes to us with familiar characters as well as new – with R-rated gore to boot.

By Jack MacDonald, MA, Film and Television

Finally, the long-awaited movie re-boot adaption of the classic video game series Mortal Kombat has arrived. After being confined into development hell, the film now comes to us with familiar characters as well as new – with R-rated gore to boot.

The 1995 movie adaptation was famously slated but achieved mass box-office success, garnering a sequel, Annihilation (1997). This turned into an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy of the self-destruction of the series. Fan-reaction to the short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth (2010) would re-invigorate interest in further development. The latest version follows closely to the 1995 storyline and adds characters and new plotlines. The worlds of Earthrealm and Outerworld are merged in battle within Mortal Kombat, a renowned fight tournament which pits fighters against each other to the death.

Lewis Tan in Mortal Kombat (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

A prophecy states that Outerworld is doomed to fail, and so the evil soul-sucking shapeshifter Shang Tsung (Chin Han) seeks to prevent this by forging his own band of tournament fighters. With guidance from the God of Thunder Raiden (Tadanobu Asano): Cole (Lewis Tan), fighter and main protagonist, seeks to train and stop Shang Tsung and his band of fighters from winning Mortal Kombat and conquering Earthrealm. Also along for the ride are fellow fighters Sonya (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Lui Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang).

The film, it has to be said, is left with diminishing returns. The crux and popularity of the video game series is the ability to partake in controlling the characters and their fighting abilities and ultimately to see heads chopped and smashed.

The film successfully retains an R-rating, and as a result is more fluid and truer to the game series than previous incarnations could be. However, this doesn’t wholly solve the key issues with the film. For one, the casting. This entry does have actors that physically represent their characters’ roles, however acting ability is in limited supply. Thus, in an already clichéd story, it’s hard to fully engage with what is ultimately a fight-fest with loose plot points.

Josh Lawson and Jessica McNamee in Mortal Kombat (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

Similarly disappointing are the fight sequences themselves. It is true that violence and gore are in full display; heads are smashed, plenty of blood and gusts are spilled. However, the fight sequences don’t portray the implied jeopardy, hugely reducing any impact. The over-indulgent number of short-cuts and 360-degree camera movements slow the action down.

In contrast to a great action franchise such as The Raid (2011-2014) films, where the fight choreography is swift, agile, slick, and ultimately more bone-crunchingly effective than this fight-led flick could display, Mortal Kombat ought to really take a cue from those films.

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This, as a movie adaption goes, is more in spirit to the game series than previous incarnations and would likely please the hardcore fans of the gamers. For the rest of us and, any at any grand level of storytelling, it falls short, and it achieves anything but a flawless victory. The 1995 movie version may have strayed away from the game’s platform of violence and character arcs, but I did find plenty of B-movie charm in that version, absent in this more earnest incarnation of the franchise.

Still, plenty of gore to be splashed about, and I can’t say it didn’t push a few enjoyable reckless destruction buttons for me. The fans will embrace it, others need not apply.

Featured: IMDb

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