This review is spoiler-free.
As a fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise as a whole, including unashamedly enjoying Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, I can’t help but feel a little flat with the 2021 reboot. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing moments, but I feel this was a huge missed opportunity. Despite its strong opening, which oddly they decided to release for free prior to the film’s release, the next act was very clumsy and a total mess in regards to story choices and pacing. While the movie manages to salvage itself, going into the final act, and even with a very exciting stinger at the end, overall the movie felt like it was stuck in limbo. It wasn’t great nor was it so bad it’s good, additionally I wouldn’t say it’s a bad film. It’s a difficult one to place. I did enjoy enough of the movie and I think there is plenty of potential here, but there needs to be some significant changes should a sequel get the green light! So what needs to change?
First of all, whoever made the call for the quick edits during the fight scenes needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, as the super-fast cuts in Mortal Kombat makes Season One of Iron Fist look like The Raid! You do a total disservice to the talented martial artists by cutting every two or three moves. The selling point of this movie was that they used, mainly, trained fighters! And the cast they assembled have a track record of putting on great fights. So why chop it all up and stop the flow? This type of Western editing does nothing to elevate or add to the fights, it only helps to take away from them. The fighting needs a total rethink, especially if you are going to sacrifice quality of the acting and focus on delivering great fights. Not-so-great acting can be forgiven when you deliver great fights.
With so much lore to use, I feel that if you went into this movie having no prior-knowledge you would be overwhelmed. They bombard you with wave after wave and the strange pacing only makes this worse. But sometimes, even when they present you with story aspects or characters it just doesn’t work. I think Lewis Tan is a talented martial artist and performer, but he is completely wasted in this movie as the film’s main protagonist Cole Young. Cole, as a character, just falls flat and the family aspects of his backstory feel like an unnecessary distraction. I know it is difficult when trying to push a new character in a franchise like this, but I think, just like the fight editing, the writers do Tan a huge disservice.
Finally, I think they made some bad calls with regards to who lives and who dies. Now, of course you could just magic anyone back to life here, and its hinted at, that will be the case should a second movie get the go-ahead, but mistakes were made! I’m not saying that you can’t lose anyone, of course you can and it is expected, it’s Mortal Kombat! But there is a way to do it, and too many times you are left thinking, why?
I feel like I am really starting to beat down on the film and you might get the impression that I hated it. Well, I didn’t. There is actually a great deal that I liked and I found enjoyable!
For starters, Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) had great chemistry and you genuinely bought their rivalry. It’s just a shame that fight edits let them down. Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Mileena (Sisi Stringer) were also very enjoyable characters. But there are two characters who pretty much stole the movie and they were Kano (Josh Lawson) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). Lawson’s comedic timing and line delivery was sensational and the writing was genuinely ‘laugh out loud’ funny. As for Huang, he was simply the perfect fit for Kung Lao. The subtle nuances of his performers were incredible and he had some of the best fight moments in the entire movie.
Where this movie really stands out is its boldness and refusal to hold back on the fatalities. This movie was not afraid to go very graphic and some of the finishing moves here were so good, it felt like they were ripped straight from the video games. There is one moment involving Kung Lao that had my jaw on the floor. I was not expecting it and it was easily one of the greatest things I’ve seen in a martial arts movie. It was both shocking and hilarious. Incredible stuff!
I think when reflecting back on this movie, it is an enjoyable watch, so long as you switch off your brain. But it does have its problems and maybe some of this is my fault because I built up the movie because of the trailer. I think it’s actually the trailer that hurts the movie in some respects, because they give away so much that you lose the impact of those moments when watching the film and there just aren’t enough hidden extras to make up for it. I think if you like Mortal Kombat you’ll either enjoy or be fine with this movie. If you have no connection to the franchise, that might be a different story all together. Like I said earlier, this film failed to fulfil its potential and a sequel would need a completely new approach, especially when it comes to the editing of the fight scenes and the pacing of the story.
Mortal Kombat struggles to find its footing at times and this talented group of performers are done a huge disservice thanks to quick-cut editing during its fights. However, incredible fatalities and some character high points manage to manage to salvage the movie, and with some adjustments, a sequel could very much benefit from the groundwork laid here. Hope is not lost!? Let us know in the comments below.