A little peek behind the curtain: Originally, we wanted to focus on what the Mortal Kombat 2021 reboot gets right. And for sure, the film isn’t all bad. The opening scene, in particular, gets so much right (Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero steals every scene he appears in). But the movie quickly takes a nosedive into mediocrity, with major pacing issues, absent character development, and underwhelming action scenes – which, if nothing else, you’d expect a movie called Mortal Kombat to deliver. So, let’s break down some of the issues. Spoilers ahead.
There Is No Tournament
Consider Mortal Kombat a prequel to its own movie. The tournament, of which the entire series is based on and derives its name, does not actually take place in Mortal Kombat. This could have worked, but the film itself makes references to the tournament, and is seemingly setting up for the tournament to take place, and then it just never does. And nearly all the woefully underdeveloped villains die by the end. OK?
In the Mortal Kombat video game series, characters’ abilities come from a range of sources. Some get their powers from training. Others, from technology. Characters like Goro draw from their species’ natural abilities. In the reboot, it’s simplified: It all comes from arcana.
Characters must awaken their arcana in order to use their special abilities in combat. If these awakenings were tied to some sort of character growth, the simplification of the source material’s lore could have been justified – and maybe even welcomed. But all of the characters awaken their arcana by continuing to be themselves. Boring audience surrogate Cole Young awakens his literal plot armor when he’s pushed to care for his family, whom he is shown to care about from the beginning. Smarmy, angry Kano awakens his arcana by being smarmy and angry. And Sonya Blade? She just appears in a scene to save the day after slaying a dragon-mark-bearing villain*. It’s honestly surprising just how static these characters remain throughout the entire movie.
*That’s another can of worms: Dragon mark bearers have the potential to unlock arcana. If you kill a dragon mark bearer, the mark is transferred to your own skin, thus allowing you the ability to unlock special powers. It’s so dumb.
Here’s a drinking game no mortal should play: Take a shot every time a character drops an expletive. Yeah, don’t do that. Ever. Unless you’re drinking straight orange juice. (And even then, watch the sugar!) Seriously, it’s more than a little distracting and underscores the shallow dialogue. Then there’s Kano, whose pop-culture ridden lines are paired with derogatory jabs toward minority characters played for jokes. It’s tired, lacks wit, and plainly isn’t funny.
While Mortal Kombat has the ingredients to produce a solid, cheesy B-movie, and certainly labors to pay respect to its source material, it squanders its potential nearly every step of the way. It’s yet another disappointing video game movie, and isn’t even the first clunker in the series. At least Mortal Kombat: Annihilation gave us so-bad-it’s-good scenes like this.
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