Review: Mortal Kombat (McQuoid, 2021)

Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Lynn ‘Red’ Williams, and Josh Lawson

Rating: F

Making a competent and enjoyable adaptation of the violent gore-fest video game Mortal Kombat shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s been over two decades since Paul W.S. Anderson first brought the classic arcade fighter to the big screen, and every attempt at adaptation somehow continues to drop the ball. Maybe this is Warner Bros. line of thought — There’s a built-in fanbase, so we don’t have to try. It shows. This latest interpretation is no different, and somehow manages to be worse than the hilariously awful 1997 sequel-to-the-original, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Mixed Martial Artist Cole Young’s (Tan) world is turned upside down when a stranger sharing the same dragon-like birthmark, Jax (Williams), arrives to recruit him for a prophetic mission. With the help of Jax’s military comrade Sonya Blade (McNamee) and her foul mouthed prisoner Kano (Lawson), they traverse into a realm where evildoers are attempting to cheat their way into winning a fight tournament that, if crowned champion for the tenth consecutive time, will allow them to take over Earth. 

The premise is objectively goofy and that’s legitimately fine. This a video game adaptation, after all, and the point should be fun. Who cares if it’s stupid, so long as the built-in fanbase is satisfied and the uninitiated can have some fun, too. But McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat is a failure. A joyless, boring, and offensive failure made with zero effort or charisma.

A major studio like Warner Bros. should be able to offer unlimited resources to make a movie look, at the very least, like a movie. Instead, what we get is a series of scenes where people are haphazardly placed in front of bland, green screen sets and attempt to move the fairly thin plot forward. The action set pieces, which are surprisingly sparse here, look like shit — dulled and formless, unremarkable and without life. The amalgam of fight choreography, editing, and blocking is basic, at best. The total sum of all of its parts, a dry heave of soulless content. 

It’s not even a call for something extraordinary to fill its place. Just make it something. The bar should be higher than having people cosplay as video game characters while they meander their way through Syd Field’s three act structure. Something as simple as using the 1995 version’s plot as the backbone here, using the excuse of homage or remake, would have at least made the movie paced better and allow fight sequences to be sprinkled throughout. 

To reiterate, it’s an enormous and glaring issue — the fights themselves. Not only are they poorly choreographed and boring to look at, but they’re in short supply. This is what’s supposed to sell the movie, and they hardly exist. And when they do happen, they’re often short. The gory fatalities which the game is notorious for are, too, infrequent, and it’s certainly not the characters that are going to grab any attention, either. The protagonists, antagonists, and their motivations are just as bland as the fight scenes. The film uses every tiresome plot point to get us to care, and even that fails to muster any interest whatsoever. Of course our hero has to protect his family. Of course our hero has to go through trials and tribulations to earn his super powers. It’s fine to be derivative to an extent when formula works, but this is exhaustingly well-tread territory.

No one has to reinvent the wheel to make a good Mortal Kombat movie. Hiring competent fight choreographers would be a start. As would putting filmmakers who care about what they’re making in control of the project. It’s blatantly transparent when a cheap product rolls off a conveyor belt to earn a quick buck, and people, especially fans of both action movies and the Mortal Kombat video game franchise, deserve more.

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