After two years of waititng, Marvel’s Black Widow finally comes out this weekend, and I’m definitely going to go see it. But post-vaccination, I’ve already made it out to see another movie recently: The new Mortal Kombat.
I wrote a draft of this the weekend that I saw the flick, but I knew it needed some work. And now here it is! A Mortal Kombat (2021) kinda-review from like a month and a half ago.
(Look, those Raw Deal Indy Cards aren’t gonna make themselves.)
SPOILER WARNING. THIS IS YOUR ONE WARNING. IF YOU PLAN TO WATCH THE 2021 MORTAL KOMBAT MOVIE AND DO NOT WANT SPOILERS THEN DO NOT READ FURTHER.
It had been fifteen months since I last went to a movie theater. The last movie I saw in theaters, pre-pandemic, was Sonic the Hedgehog with Jim Carrey. I absolutely love going to see big spectacle movies on the silver screen, so after getting my COVID-19 vaccinations and waiting another two weeks to be fully vaccinated, as per CDC guidelines, I knew it wasn’t going to be long before I went to the theater again.
There were two big spectacles waiting for me: Godzilla vs Kong, and Mortal Kombat. Well as much as I love giant monster flicks (my roommate owns literally every Godzilla movie, and between the two of us we also have all the Gamera movies), I knew that I would have far more fun seeing that movie with other fans of the Big G, so I decided to hold off and go see MK. And I feel like I made the right choice.
Okay, so I’m not gonna bury the lede here: This movie is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey monomyth, by the numbers. New character Cole Young is absolutely the MK universe’s version of Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter or Clary Fray; He’s an audience-surrogate orphan who goes on an unexpected journey, where he learns about a secret world, goes through trials, gains his magical abilities, learns that he comes from a family that’s part of this secret world, and helps the other heroes save the day. It’s literally the plot of A New Hope or The Sorcerer’s Stone or City of Bones, just with the trappings of Mortal Kombat.
However, Cole is different from Clary and Luke and Harry, in that he isn’t a teenager when the movie starts, because this movie isn’t aimed at kids. Much like the majority of people who have been playing the Mortal Kombat video games since their debut in the early 1990s, Cole is a down-on-his-luck guy in his late 30s or early 40s, with a wife and kid, struggling to make ends meet in a gig economy. Specifically, Cole is a cage fighter, but he just as easily could have been an Uber driver. It just makes more sense for him to be a fighter since this is, y’know, Mortal Kombat.
I’ve seen some people deride Cole as a character. But, I dunno. I recognized pretty immediately who he was supposed to be, and I couldn’t fault the filmmakers for wanting to do something that the other Mortal Kombat movies didn’t do, and that was give us a POV character that wasn’t an already-established Kombatant that we’ve been familiar with for almost 30 years. So he worked for me. But I can understand and appreciate that if you just wanted the traditional Mortal Kombat story, again, that this new addition may not be your cup of tea.
One of the fun things about the first Mortal Kombat game is that all 7 of the playable characters were based on other things from martial arts films; Johnny Cage was Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character in Bloodsport. Liu Kang is Bruce Lee. Kano was inspired by the Terminator. Even end boss Shang Tsung was inspired by characters like Fu Manchu or Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China.
In this movie, that definitely continues. I’m not sure Shang Tsung has never looked more like Lo Pan than he does now. Cole in his final form gave me a very The Man With The Iron Fists vibe. And Sonya Blade was straight-up Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. She was a character who knew about a secret plot from outsiders to destroy the Earth as we know it. Her purpose was to help the chosen one overcome this enemy, even though she was just a regular human. She ended up defeating a “Terminator” (Kano) before the movie began. And by the end of the movie, her partner (Jax) was a cyborg that was terminating the opposition. Actress Jessica McNaMee doesn’t really resemble Linda Hamilton, but she is straight-up wearing Sarah Connor’s look from second half of T2 through this entire movie. And I thought that was great.
There were fatalities galore, nearly all pulled directly from the games (I don’t remember any lawn gnomes in the MK video games, but maybe I’m wrong?). And I loved every blood-soaked second of them, even when Shang Tsung stole Kung Lao’s soul. In fact, all the special effects were pretty great. Sub-Zero’s icicles were maybe a little overused, and I would’ve liked a better view of Reptile, but everything else from Mileena’s disgusting teeth to Liu Kang’s fire dragon was rock-solid.
The opening and final scenes, with the fights between Bi-Han/Sub-Zero and Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion were amazing. The opening sequence greatly resembled a classic martial arts movie, and the ending was all the fun of a modern film with some fun CGI bits. Also, as a Klassic MK lore junkie, I appreciated seeing Sub-Zero shed the blue body armor during the big final battle, and fight in a simple black jumpsuit, as a reference to the video games’ storyline where the original Sub-Zero, Bi-Han, eventually becomes the all-black ninja antagonist, Noob Saibot.
So that’s a lot of words about this movie.
But here’s the weirdest part: As much as I enjoyed this experience, I don’t know that I would call this a GOOD movie. It’s a summer popcorn flick using the plot of The Hero’s Journey wrapped in a video game shell.
Mortal Kombat as a franchise can pretty much never be the best version of whatever it’s trying to do. But it can be super fun in the moment. And in the moments I was watching this movie, I had a lot of fun.
The movie is currently streaming on Warner Bros. HBO Max subscription service, but if you get the chance to see it in theaters, I definitely recommend the big-screen experience.