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Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Directed by: Simon McQuoid

Premise: Based on the videogame. Pugilists from around the globe are enlisted to defend the Earth in a life or death fighting tournament.

What Works: Films adapted from videogames don’t have a very good history. Assassin’s Creed and Doom and Max Payne were notoriously bad. The 2021 version of Mortal Kombat is not a bad picture. It is competently made, generally makes sense, and tells a coherent story while working in references to the game. Mortal Kombat was previously adapted into a 1995 feature film and this is a distinctly different picture. The earlier Mortal Kombat movie was a PG-13 affair whereas the new version is rated R for gory violence. The new film also tells a distinct story and possesses a very different style and so 2021’s Mortal Kombat is distinguished enough to stand on its own without feeling redundant with the 1995 picture. Among the bright spots of this new version is Josh Lawson’s performance as Kano. Lawson is very funny and his comic timing is impeccable.

What Doesn’t: The 1995 version of Mortal Kombat was not a very good movie but at least it was fun in a campy sort of way. The 2021 Mortal Kombat film doesn’t feel like much of anything. Aside from Josh Lawson’s Kano, the rest of the characters in Mortal Kombat are bland and uninteresting. Each fighter has a distinct look and a unique superpower but they don’t have any personality. Virtually everyone talks in the same melodramatic cadence that is supposed to sound dramatic but just comes across monotonous and pretentious. They aren’t people with quirks and dimensionality nor do they have goals or desires. This is another fantasy movie in which we’re told the fate of the world hangs in the balance but the film never creates meaningful stakes. There’s little sense of drama even in the fights. The story works in a conflict between a mortal MMA fighter (Lewis Tan) and the villainous Subzero (Joe Taslim) but this conflict doesn’t come to a satisfying or meaningful conclusion. That’s partly due to the filmmaker’s approach to the material. At its essence, Mortal Kombat is a sports franchise. The central conceit of Mortal Kombat is that it is a fighting tournament. That’s not really true of this movie. There’s no structure or rules. A lot of the movie is just random fights and the bouts aren’t organized in a way that builds drama.

Bottom Line: Mortal Kombat is just an average fighting movie. It’s competently executed but there’s nothing memorable about it nor is it much fun.

Episode: #849 (May 2, 2021)