The famous motif of the fighting game franchise Mortal Kombat is the Fatality, a gory finishing blow that creatively defies anatomical possibilities. The complexity of a Fatality and the simplicity of a plot about death-match tournaments is a pairing that hardly translates to compelling cinema. But there have been attempts.
The legacy of the otherwise-maligned original film adaptation was its catchy theme song. Its upbeat quality continues to endure, serving as a common choice for gyms and professional fighter entrances. It’s the one memento from 1995 that director Simon McQuoid keeps in his 2021 reboot, reworking it with a modern twist.
In every other direction, this take is distinctive and much more competent (though it was a low bar to clear). However, what’s underwhelming is that it’s essentially one long build-up to a sequel, with an elongated first act and truncated remainder. The narrative’s best aspect is digging into the bloody rivalry between two fan-favourite characters, Sub-Zero (Taslim) and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), which recurs in parallel with a face-off between the world’s best warriors and evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han).
Newcomers are guided via the perspective of new character Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter who is unexpectedly attacked by Sub-Zero and reeled in by a group of individuals who share a birthmark that identifies them as Earthrealm’s chosen combatants. They include Sonya Blade (Jessica MacNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Kano (Josh Lawson, a real scene-stealer), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), all guided by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Anyone who knows the popular source material knows these names, and every actor wonderfully inhabits them.
Perfectly cast from top to bottom, a generous budget enables appealing depictions of the beloved roster’s special powers; for fresh eyes, it’s a good impression of the game’s icons. However, the fights don’t match their performances. Fine choreography is undercut by editing that distorts the fisticuffs’ impact and geography. It’s clear the action sequences were shot multiple times from multiple angles and spliced together – an odd choice, given that the ideal martial arts movie (i.e. The Raid, Ip Man) utilises long takes.
Ultimately, though, what matters is nailing the Fatality, and there are several spectacular moments that will fill fans with glee. Whilst not quite a flawless victory, the new Mortal Kombat is still a winner thanks to a game cast and greater treatment of the source material than previously imagined.
Mortal Kombat is released digitally on demand on 7th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Mortal Kombat here: