As a longtime fan of the Mortal Kombat game franchise, I was skeptical of another movie adaptation. While the game is adored by generations, I assumed the lore of the concept was too intricate and too distorted from reality to translate well into film. Fortunately my assumptions were not completely correct, and the film was entertaining but lacked some things that made the games successful. “Mortal Kombat” was released April 23 in theaters and on HBO Max.
If you start this movie with low expectations, knowing that you won’t receive anything more than mindless entertainment and violence, then you will be pleasantly surprised. That is not a bad thing, because the charm of action movies are the cheesy lines and gravity-defying fighting scenes, which this film has a lot of. The plot itself is already corny; it is hard not to be when depicting an inter-dimensional fighting tournament, but many lines and unnecessary flips had me cackling.
The film starts off by introducing two of the most well-known characters of the “Mortal Kombat” universe, Sub Zero (Joe Taslim) and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). While their 17th century ninja rivalry is intriguing, there is literally no context to the conflict beside the fact that Scorpion is a notorious ninja, but is that enough cause for Sub Zero to kill off his wife and young child? The creators of the movie failed to mention their intensive backstory, which was present in the games.
The new protagonist, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is bland. He was easily the least interesting character; his whole personality rides on his ancestry connecting him to Scorpion. His superhuman ability was terribly anticlimactic in comparison to his predecessor, and his long sleeved metal top just looked odd. I was surprised that out of all the characters within the game universe, the film creators focused on ones that aren’t super exciting. Since a majority of the film was set in the Earthrealm, I understand there was not a lot of room to incorporate many characters, but I still would have liked to see more iconic characters such as rogue swordsman Kenshi or the princess Kitana to hold my attention.
As for the female characters, I was disappointed by their irrelevance. Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) was never my favorite character to play as, but I was expecting her to be a driving force within the film. Throughout the film, Blade strives to be taken seriously by the all-male Earthrealm warriors, but she lacks an arcane and warrior marking. This seemed like a poor attempt at social commentary, causing the token female character to stand out like a sore thumb.
Women do have to work harder in order to achieve their goals, but making a decorated soldier like Blade live in a run-down trailer, and only giving her powers in the last 10 minutes of the movie, was not the way to address gender inequality. I want more movies to normalize powerful women by giving them the same positions as the male characters, instead of giving them undignified starting points.
One of my favorite characters to play as, Mileena (Sisi Stringer), was given one line and rarely any memorable scenes. This was a waste of a great villain because she is easily one of the most vicious and exciting characters within the games. Armed with teleportation abilities and shark-like teeth, Mileena had so much potential but was discarded just like the other bland characters. The scope of the game is vast, so I was not expecting every character to have the spotlight, but it was still disappointing.
Despite sounding like an upset video game fan, I did enjoy many aspects of the movie. The fighting scenes were exciting, and shared some of the same gory moves that the games possessed. When I recognized the fatalities, such as someone’s body getting ripped in half, leaving their spine dangling out of their torso, I was happy to see the movie stayed true to the biggest aspect of the games: the fighting itself. The writers also incorporated cheesy lines from the game such as “fatality” or Scorpion’s iconic “get over here” used when imapling someone with his chain connected kunai blade. The sentiment from the games was a fun Easter egg for long-time fans.
My attention was instantly held by Scorpion and Sub Zero, despite their low screen time and shortage of speaking lines. Their emotions were more present than the rest of the characters, and their eternal blood feud created great drama and intense fighting scenes.
Overall, the movie was a mindlessly fun film to pass the time. The brutal fighting and CGI were entertaining, and I am incredibly joyed by the proper Asian representation within the film. The influence of Asian culture was apparent in the setting and costuming, and I hope that remains constant throughout the film franchise, especially as they introduce other characters.