*techno music plays*
I am an absurdly huge fan of the Mortal Kombat universe, up to and including doing a book-long parody of the franchise in my Tournament of Supervillainy novel. I have loved the series from the original arcade games to the Mortal Kombat movies to the comic books and cheesy series. Most of them are quite bad but have a charm that makes you able to enjoy them anyway. Still, I was hesitant to watch this movie because remakes are always a dicey affair. Would it be better or worse than the original 1995 film? Well, it’s better than Annihilation but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
The premise is that Cole is a washed up MMA fighter doing fill-ins at a dingy gymnasium for $200 dollars a fight. Worse, he regularly loses and it is clear he’s not going to be moving any higher in the rankings. Hell, worse than that, it’s stated he used to be a champion but has aged out of his prime. Which, given Lewis Tan is 34 years old is believable enough. Cole was, however, born with a dragon-shaped birthmark that marks him as one of the Champions of Earthrealm. He is of an ancient lineage of heroes and is recruited by Jax and Sonya Blade to fight evil.
If this sounds a bit like someone’s Mortal Kombat fanfiction then you aren’t wrong. Cole is a weird stand-out in a franchise that already had many characters who were perfect to play one’s intro into the weird-weird world of magical death tournaments. Introducing a new one is unnecessary and distracts from the character development of the fan favorites that we came here to see. Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blaze, Jax, Scorpion, and Raiden are all present on the side of “good” but barely figure into the story due to so much of it being devoted to Cole’s story arc. It’s doubly weird because Lewis Tan could easily have played a lot of the Mortal Kombat heroes.
Everyone else is there but not really able to do much or have much characterization. The good guys are just sort of blandly good and the bad guys are blandly evil. It honestly feels a bit like the old USA cartoon (yes, I remember that too). Liu Kang, Sonya, Jax, Kung Lao, and Raiden are all about teaching Cole to believe in himself so he can be the best hero he can be. Honestly, it made me confused because Cole isn’t Harry Potter. Hell, there’s already a Chosen One in the setting and it’s Liu Kang! Man, it would have been embarrassing if one of these other Champions of Earthrealm had won the tournament!
Speaking of the tournament, there’s not actually a tournament. This is another element of the movie that confuses me because it’s actually about Shang Tsung planning to assassinate all of the Mortal Kombat fighters before they can compete. Which means that they are very confident of a sequel and perhaps overly so. It doesn’t help that the Kombatants act like they’ve won the tournament even though, well, there wasn’t one.
There’s some decent elements to the story. The opening fifteen minutes are about the conflict between Scorpion and Sub-Zero that is actually quite good. It even remembers that Sub Zero is Chinese and Scorpion is Japanese, something that even a lot of Mortal Kombat junkies forget. We also have a lot of cartoonish violence that goes over the top like Kano ripping out the heart of an opponent. That was awesome. Speaking of Kano, he’s easily the best part of this movie and shows why a Johnny Cage-esque quipster is required.
In conclusion, Mortal Kombat (2021) is an okay movie. It’s not as good as the original but it’s not terrible. It reminds me of Resident Evil or Underworld in that it is best described as “brainless fun.” I may not enjoy watching Lewis Tan as much as Mila Jovavich or Kate Beckinsale but he’s a fantastic actor and martial artist stuck with a generic part. I probably wouldn’t have seen this in theaters but since it’s on HBO Max, it’s something I’m glad I watched.