It was in the 90s that ‘bad video game movie adaptation’ got cemented in the public mindset thanks to, well, a large number of bad movies based on video games.
Was Paul W. S. Anderson’s 1995 Mortal Kombat any different? No. It was bad. But bad enough that over time it has circled back to ‘good’, thanks to some larger-than-life performances.
After a ‘so bad it’s bad’ sequel in 1997, the franchise was bloodied up, but the trailer for a 2021 R / 15 rated reboot starring Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada, as fan favourites Sub-Zero and Scorpion, successfully resuscitated interest and got hearts twitching in anticipation…
Considering beat ‘em up games have large rosters of pugilists to draw from, it's a smart move that Mortal Kombat places a stronger emphasis on character and the cast kept to a minimum. The basic premise is ultimately unimportant.
What Is Mortal Kombat About?
Mortal Kombat itself is a centuries old contest in which generations of fighters are destined to compete between realms of reality. It will take only one more loss for the Earth realm before the vicious Outworld realm will be granted permission to invade and conquer.
It’s clear that the Big Battle is between evil ice-controlling Bi-Han / Sub-Zero and noble 17th-century Samurai, Hanzo Hasashi (who’s pretty handy with a knife on a rope).
A long lead-in opening sequence sets up their rivalry (Sub-Zero gets scarred, Hanashi gets…well…on the receiving end of some pain) before we drop into modernity and also, sadly, a dip in personality.
There is a charisma vacuum in Mortal Kombat in that its supposed central character of Cole Young (Lewis Tan from Wu Assasins) has Destiny and Family written all over him. However, it is saddled with dull dialogue which Young is unable to imbue with any sparkle.
Of the wider group: muscle man Jax starts strong before fading into the background. Lightning God, Lord Raiden swings too far past the original and iconic daft Christopher Lambert performance to become a dull plot espouser.
Sonya Blade has the closest thing to achieving a goal, albeit a shallow one; and Liu Kang’s earnest likability just about makes up for the fact he’s stuck in for fight fodder.
Mortal Kombat Movie Trailer
Is Mortal Kombat Worth Watching?
Mortal Kombat has two aces in the hole though. First, the plot device that each fighter chose to compete with can awaken their ‘arcana’.
This is a mystical superpower that both gives the movie an excuse to allow for signature video game attack moves (such as optical laser blasts) and also crafts on a plot arc for each character to have to fulfil some emotional resolution in order to access it.
The bar has really been raised in the past 25 years when it comes to martial arts on screen yet ‘normal’ fights here are lacklustre, instead relying on the arcana moves to dazzle.
Second: Josh Lawson as Kano. Lawson’s scenery-chewing steals every scene he is in and his arrogant, comedic, nastiness is in one character what the tone of the movie should have been throughout.
Mortal Kombat certainly does not embarrass itself. The amount of blood and tendon-ripping violence slowly amps up as the movie goes on (thanks to a colourful array of series regular baddies) and should satisfy B-movie lovers and fans of the notoriously gore-soaked video games.
Overall villain and evil sorcerer Shang Tsung is used sparingly so one can only hope his mystical ways will be more fully exploited further on. Plus pinning all the script’s wit into laser eye shooting Kano makes the humour lopsided, but shows promise for later instalments.
There’s no fatality here that can’t be fixed with more blood, more bones, and more of a wink to the camera between beatings.
Words by Mike Record
Mortal Kombat (2021) Cast
Directed by Simon McQuoid and from a screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, the cast of Mortal Kombat is a who's who of the martial arts world.
So just who plays your favourite characters in the movie?
Lewis Tan as Cole Young, a new character introduced in the movie, not present in the original video game series. He is a mixed martial arts fighter who bears a strange dragon, marking Cole and connecting him to the tournament of Mortal Kombat.
Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade, a Special Forces officer who is dedicated to stopping the forces of Outworld's Emperor Shang Tsung. She doesn’t possess the dragon mark initially but earns it later in the film.
Josh Lawson as Kano, a mercenary and a member of the Black Dragon clan.
Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden, the God of Thunder and the protector of Earthrealm.
Mehcad Brooks as Jax Briggs, a Special Forces major with cybernetic arms, which he gets after an encounter with Sub-Zero.
Ludi Lin as Liu Kang, a fire-wielding warrior monk and a champion of Earthrealm. He is devoted to Lord Raiden and plays a key role in training the Earthrealm warriors.
Max Huang as Kung Lao, a descendant of the Great Kung Lao and a skilled martial artist.
Chin Han as Shang Tsung, is the primary bad guy in the film. He is a sorcerer from Outworld who seeks to conquer Earthrealm by winning the Mortal Kombat tournament.
Joe Taslim as Bi-Han/Sub-Zero, a cryomancer ninja from the Lin Kuei clan.
Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion, a skilled ninja from the Shirai Ryu clan.
Will There Be A Sequel To The Mortal Kombat Movie?
The good news is that yes, a sequel, Mortal Kombat 2, is in development.
Distribution has once again gone to Warner Bros. and the writers on board include Ed Boon, Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight) and John Tobias. Simon McQuoid will be returning as director.
Karl Urban (The Boys) is rumoured to play Johnny Cage with Lewis Tan and Jessica McNamee reprising their roles as Cole Young and Sonya Blade.
Filming began in Australia in June 2023 so it will be at least 2024 before we see the next movie in the Mortal Kombat Universe.
Why Wasn’t Johnny Cage In The Movie?
Johnny Cage, a notable character from the Mortal Kombat video game series, was absent from the 2021 film.
The filmmakers stated that they wanted to save this beloved character for a potential sequel, giving him a proper introduction and development.
The movie concluded with a tease of Johnny Cage, which served as a nod to the fans and set the stage for his possible appearance in a future film.
How Faithful Is The Movie To The Source Material?
The Mortal Kombat (2021) movie made efforts to be faithful to the source material, particularly in terms of character designs, fatalities, and the overall tone.
However, adaptations often require changes, and the movie introduced a new character, MMA fighter Cole Young, who is not part of the original video game series.
Additionally, some lore and character backstories were modified to fit the narrative of the film.
While the essence of the Mortal Kombat franchise was retained, there were notable differences between the movie and the video games.
Will Other Mortal Kombat Characters Appear In Future Movies?
While it wasn’t officially confirmed, the likelihood of other Mortal Kombat characters appearing in future movies was high, given how many characters and earth's greatest champions there are in the game series.
However, specific details would depend on the development of sequels.
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