Quarter Circle or Full Circle
Mortal Kombat 2021
Video game movies... you love to hate them. There have been dozens of silver screen adaptations of popular video game franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog. Many are forgettable, like the Prince of Persia movie with Jake Gyllenhaal. Then there are some like the Super Mario Bros movie you just plainly want to forget ever existed.
Fighting Games are no exception to big Hollywood's attempting to translate a beloved franchise into mainstream media. Some of its earliest attempts were the 1994 film Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ming-Na Wen, and the late Raul Julia. It has spawned off many different studios attempting to capture the campy lighthearted nature of video game movies.
However, some films seriously try at a serious cinematic universe. This would be the beloved Mortal Kombat series. However, in the 90s, they weren't really able to capture that essence just yet. With the new Reboot that just released, let's look at the new Mortal Kombat movie and see if they could!
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
In Mortal Kombat, we are introduced to two different worlds in strife, Earthrealm and Outworld. They are engaged in a millennium-long conflict on Outworld's desire to rule over Earthrealm. The gods have decided that to allow Outworld to be successful, they need to win 10 straight Mortal Kombat, and Earthrealm just has to deny them 1 win. So far, Outworld has been highly successful, winning 9 out of 10 Mortal Kombats. It seems like the age of heroes is over as the champions for Earthrealm are Sonya Blade (unchosen, which we will get to later), Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Kano, Jax, and newcomer Cole Young.
The chosen one device used in Mortal Kombat 2021 is that you must have a physical mark of the MK Dragon branded on your skin to compete in the tournament. This mark can apparently be stolen. For example, if you are killed by someone who is unmarked, or you can be born with it, in the case of Cole Young, who is a descendant of Hanzo Hasashi (Scorpion).
There is also another sub-plot of a prophecy that the bloodline of Hanzo Hasashi will be the downfall of Outworld's attempts at winning Mortal Kombat. The prophecy is used as a deus ex machina for bailing out Cole Young's fight against the main antagonist Bi-Han AKA Sub-Zero.
The MK Dragon birthmark(?) also plays a significant factor in a chosen one unlocking their superpowers called Arcana. For example, Liu Kang is a firebender, and Kung Lao can control his spinning hat with telekinesis. Cole Young gets this symbolic body of armor that has Black Panther-Esque kinetic absorptions and Tonfas. Jax gains super strength and high-tech robot arms, and Kano gets laser vision. Sonya Blade does not have this birthmark, so she cannot compete in Mortal Kombat and "is a liability to the chosen ones."
As we can see, the plot is already a loosely based adaptation of the original Mortal Kombat plot with some brand new elements that require a lot of exposition to explain. It chooses to fill a bit more story than just: here's a group of guys and gals, and they fight a bunch of arguably more evil bunch of guys and gals.
A lot of it was completely unnecessary as it creates more plot holes than it did solve issues for the plot.
The whole plot is a training arc period for the Mortal Kombat tournament. In the end, they don't even compete in a tournament! They just end up being teleported by Raiden to ambush the outworld members and fight them 1v1. At the end of the movie, nothing is resolved because they just kill the outworld champions, basically voiding the tourney as a whole. Then, Shang Tsung just says something vague about how these characters are just basically going to return in the sequel.
The Chosen One device was a big plotline for who can compete in MK or not. Sonya Blade's whole character arc is that she is the most capable and should be considered for Mortal Kombat as she was ex-military, could single-handedly defeat Kano, and dedicated a significant portion of her life to the cause. She still ends up fighting Kano and taking his mark after killing him. Still, the whole "Sonya doesn't get to compete because she is not chosen" gets completely sidelined, so we can see her have a big showdown.
Cole Young's backstory is also another big plot hole. He really is just a character used to shoehorn exposition and give the audience a way to be told the movie's entire plot from other characters. He is a descendant of Scorpion, one of the greatest ninjas that ever lived, and was assassinated by Sub-Zero in 1200 AD. (It's also really unclear how Sub-Zero has lived for 800+ years given that he is a human male with ice powers). However, Hanzo had a secret baby that Sub-Zero accidentally did not kill, despite the baby crying the entire first 10 minutes of the movie. That baby gets taken by Raiden to safety, and hundreds of years later, Cole Young is the descendant of that baby and has a birthmark. The prophecy clearly states that Scorpion's bloodline would be the downfall of Outworld's attempts at winning Mortal Kombat, and it ultimately is. But the biggest question is, why didn't Raiden just train that bloodline to be the greatest fighter the world has ever seen. He was able to nurture and develop Liu Kang (street urchin) and Kung Lao, a descendant of Earth's greatest champion Kung Lao, who Raiden thought was going to be the savior of Earthrealm.
In essence, it is also quite ridiculous because if I was named Muhammed Ali, that doesn't mean I'm going to be the greatest boxer in the world. But, if there was a prophecy explicitly stating this baby and its babies will save the world. You'd think Raiden would put a little more effort into making that baby the greatest fighter the world has ever seen.
Characters and Their Action Scenes
I know we talked a bit about characters already, so I will just be rating all of the characters and giving a short blurb about why they have that rating.
Mileena, Kabal, General Reiko, Goro 2/10
They are in this movie; that's about it. The evil Outworld champions don't really have good dialogue. The one with the most is Kabal, but he ends up being the worst of the bunch with his terrible accent. He does convert Kano over to Outworld, so that's praiseworthy. Still, he was kind of the odd child in the group of superpowered beings.
General Reiko was also pretty lame, his fight with Jax is lackluster, and the actor had some of the most horrible facial reactions in the scene. He made the character look like a big, bumbling goof in his big fight scene.
If I were to name the best, it'd be Mileena. She looked horrifying and really well done. When she did that thing where she opens her mouth and it starts to rip apart absolutely 10/10 effects.
Honestly, Raiden is like the worst version I have ever seen, and the 90s version of Raiden seems like the gold standard now compared to this take on him. He does little to no protection and doesn't seem like an all-powerful lesser god. He has a horribly inconsistent tone and accent issue. He does very little to drive the plot forward except to be a means of transportation.
Kung Lao 4/10
He uses his teleport ability once and never used it again. You think it would solve many issues for him, and he ends up dying because he forgets he can teleport. He did do the Kung Lao buzzsaw fatality, which was the best part of him, bumping his score up just a little bit.
Cole Young 5/10
You've seen my gripes about the most significant plot holes that this character does, but he does more than Raiden. A minor detail is that Cole Young is of Japanese Heritage. There is little to no issue for the writer's to
- Keep the character Japanese by giving him an actual Japanese last name.
- Use a Japanese actor.
Yes, generations get muddled after an extended period. However, for the sake of respecting Asian culture, it's not hard for a writer to keep him Japanese to give a representation for a minority group in acting.
I am a big fan of Mehcad Brooks, and if I were to give him a rating based on the actor, it'd be 10/10. However, Jax was sidelined for a majority of the movie. His Arcana is that his prosthetics become giant robot arms with super strength. These were considerable liberties taken by the writing staff because, in the source material, he's like a Cyborg-style (Teen Titans) character who is a man using the cards the world has given him. Now that his abilities are surrounded by mysticism, it devolves his character. He does do the Jax fatality, which was amazing to see in live-action. But he was also fighting the most spoofed character, General Reiko, so you don't really feel anything from it.
Liu Kang 6/10
He was experienced and tenured, but he was the character we'd hope Cole Young to be. His ability to use fire was creative and honestly drew some laughs. He does a different version of the famous Liu Kang fatality in the movie, and he had a great casting. However, he was kind of cringe in the way that he moved or acted. He was very obviously a Mandarin-speaking Shaolin Monk, but he did almost 0 mannerisms of an actual monk. The things he did though, were actually just incorrect or weird. He also says, "Fatality for Kung Lao," who the hell would ever say that in a conversation after a fight to the death.
Sonya Blade 8/10
She was honestly one of the better characters. She ends up developing a type of Arcana with hand beams, which we have seen her use in previous MK entries where she has a variety of psionic energy. It kind of strays away from the fact that she is a woman who has to use her wits and her resources to defeat superpowered beings. She really is the only character with a plotline that has a start and a finish, so she does receive well-deserved catharsis at the end for killing Kano.
Shang Tsung 8/10
Pretty accurate character. He is evil because he is evil. He helped drive the plot forward and actively took opportunities when presented. He put a little too much trust in Sub-Zero, and that was really his downfall. He says some really cringe things, but aside from that. It was true to the Shang Tsung character.
One of the stronger characters in the bunch, he was a great antagonist. He was spooky with ice powers, looked great, and was nowhere near The Last Airbender style of waterbending (THANK GOD.) The biggest issue was that he was honestly the worst villain because he never learned to finish what he started. He doesn't kill a baby. He can teleport everywhere but doesn't track down Cole Young before reaching Sonya. He doesn't even kill Jax completely. He just assumes things are done and just leaves.
I am a huge fan of Hiroyuki Sanada and love him in all of his works. His fight scenes were undeniably the best. It blends a great sense of traditional martial art into a modern-day environment. He has the fantastical elements of Martial Arts incorporated into his choreography and is really well done. The movie itself does him an injustice by making him a Deus ex Machina to kill Sub-Zero. He really does nothing for the plot except end MK officially. In essence, they didn't even need Cole Young. They just needed to bring back Scorpion from the dead. He does the Scorpion Hellfire fatality, which was amazing to see.
Honestly, Kano was the best character in the whole movie. He was funny, and he commanded every scene he was in. I don't think there was a line in the film where I wasn't laughing. His dialogue and quips felt really organic—big props to Josh Lawson for elevating the rest of the cast with his phenomenal acting. The only gripe was Kano didn't receive a source-accurate costume with his giant robot laser eye. He instead just develops it as a superpower with a normal eyeball.
Mortal Kombat 2021 is a fun movie to watch. It's not necessarily going to be an utterly thrilling narrative from start to finish. Still, it does offer what fans want to see in an action-packed movie of their favorite and beloved franchise characters. The biggest lackluster of the film for me was that the movie was NOT Mortal Kombat the movie. It was a movie with Mortal Kombat characters. Unfortunately, this movie didn't necessarily hit that mark. As we can see from its current box office standing, it may just be a one and done.
Okizeme will give this fighting game movie a 7/10; it was fun for us and barely scrapes by the full-circle cusp. KANO WINS.
Thanks for tuning in to this week's Quarter Circle or Full Circle, we hope to see y'all next time!