By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
The year was 1995. The Mortal Kombat series was at the height of its popularity. Williams Entertainment in Corsicana was preparing for its fall release of Mortal Kombat 3 for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy. And during that summer, New Line Cinema released the Mortal Kombat film to movie theaters.
I admit to a bit of personal nostalgia for the violent fighting game series, considering its role in my life that year. Being involved with the franchise at 19 years old was a real (pardon the pun) game changer for me. The 1995 movie was fun, cheesy, and accurate to the over the top characters in its retelling of the series’ origin story (now told multiple times over through movies and video games).
Mortal Kombat (2021) is something of a reboot, and something of a prequel retelling of those events.
Part of my role with the series later evolved into being something of a fact checker and historian, making sure the later games properly followed its twisted (and sometimes convoluted) mythology. I felt the mental notes tick off during the opening fight scene between ninjas Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). The opening highlight scene made very clear this version was going to be a step up from the “PG-13” offerings as the fights were often brutal and bloody.
The film shifts to a new protagonist made exclusively for the new movie: Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Young has been described as an “audience guide” character, helping viewers find a relatable avatar proxy to guide them through the narrative. The addition of this character felt unnecessary, and didn’t really add much to the overall story. As Mortal Kombat itself nears its 30-year anniversary, either you’re going to know and go along with these characters, or you aren’t. This is a film that ultimately benefits the familiar.
But most people aren’t going to buy tickets to nitpick those details. The real appeal are the fight scenes and the game’s signature finishing moves called “Fatalities.” Where the 1995 “PG-13” film held back to bring in a wider audience, the 2021 “R” film leans deep into realizing and delivering the over the top spectacle. If you’re here to see some of those moments translated to the big (or TV) screen, you’ll get what you came for.
The overall cast works well enough. In watching the film, I kept pulling comparisons from the 1995 film. Some casting choices such as Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) work better in this version, while some of the original film’s scenery chewing from that set of actors provided more interesting interpretations. I kept thinking about a “dream team” of picking and choosing between the casts for the best versions of the characters. For the 2021 version, the comedy surprisingly comes often from the mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), who provides a long-running series of one-liners and comedic moments that keep the movie entertaining.
Overall, Mortal Kombat (2021) offers a fun collection of moments that, if they do press forward with the multiple planned sequels, I hope they further tighten up a few story and pacing elements to reach its full franchise potential. But if you’re simply looking for a film with super powered fighters punching the literal fool out of each other, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
I don’t think the new film will surpass my fondness for the 1995 movie, but the 2021 version is absolutely better than 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (then again, there are few films that can sink to that level of cinematic mess).
Mortal Kombat (2021) released in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23.