Friday, April 23, 2021

Mortal Kombat

The 2021 adaptation of the Mortal Kombat video games has a higher budget, better special effects, and a cast at least as talented as the 1995 film. So why is it less entertaining? It probably has something to with the flaws of the earlier film feeding into joys of a B-movie, while the more serious approach this time around is just flawed. Oh, and if you are going to do a Mortal Kombat movie, you may want to include a Mortal Kombat tournament in it.

The entire film takes place prior to a tournament and involves the minions of Shang Tsung (Chin Han) being sent to kill the warriors of Earth despite the fact that all evidence suggests Earth has no chance in winning the tournament. However, there's a prophecy that a descendant of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), who we see murdered in the opening scene, will prevent Outworld from winning Mortal Kombat.

Our heroes are former MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) who turns out to be a poor substitute for Liu Kang as the hero of destiny, and Special Forces officers Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee).

Along the way, our would-be heroes ruin into the treacherous Kano (Josh Lawson), and Shaolin warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) who are training with Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) in preparation for the upcoming battle. Several villains are given an upgrade from the 90s film, most prominently Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) who becomes the go-to bad-ass for Outworld. As one of my two favorite characters from the games, the fan in me got a thrill at seeing the character used better this time around (even with the clunky baggage of backstory he's forced to carry around). While still more effect than character, this version of Goro (Angus Sampson) has more movement than the previous film, and Reptile receives a serious CGI upgrade as well.

I will give the film credit for its effects and fight sequences. It's obvious several hours of thought and hard work went in to them. It also embraces the brutality of the video game in the finishing moves of the characters, which the previous Mortal Kombat shied away from in most cases to stay away from the R-rating that this movie receives. I wish I could say something positive about the plot which adds odd tattoos on the bodies of the Earth champions, which the evil doers are somehow able to track like GPS, and invents an entire subplot (that takes up more than half the film) of the characters unlocking some hidden power like shooting lasers out of their eyes, making their puny robot arms grow three sizes, or magically turning a hat into a chainsaw. Who knew those were things you could learn while studying martial arts?

The more serious take, which includes putting Cole's family in danger to trigger his metal-bending powers, or whatever you want to call the weird armor he gets, doesn't mesh with the ridiculous circumstances of every single sequence these characters find themselves in (and only one ever comments on it). McNamee is an upgrade over Bridgette Wilson's version of Sonya from the first movie, but otherwise the cast is largely forgettable. For all its effects and blood, the film is stuck with a bland leading man and several supporting characters who turn out to be not very interesting when they aren't fighting (which turns out to be most of the time). For those who didn't appreciate the cheesiness of the early film, they may find something here, but other than the individual battles, all which take place outside of a tournament that never happens, there's little here worth watching.

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