Before starting, let me make an opening statement that I’m not a Mortal Kombat fan and just a regular man who love watching movies. That doesn’t mean I’m clueless to the game however, where I do know certain of the less iconic characters (Sonya Blade, Kung Lao, Lord Raiden, etc) and played the game several times (for fatality though. That also through long process of fighting and asking to pause the game to look for the fatality command). Nevertheless, this all came from the perspective of filmmaking, but not limited to fans consideration as well, where the film’s market is targeted for.
We all could agree that the 1995 ‘Mortal Kombat’ is a cheesy entry and 1997 ‘Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’ annihilated the video game adaptation (I haven’t watched the latter apart from YouTube clips, but it certainly be a waste of time doesn’t it?). After the catastrophe it was rebooted in the hand of James Wan alongside new director Simon McQuoid, where they demanded the film to be R-rated and full with martial artists cast, which became the reason for the long production (Screen rant, 2021). Then the trailer came, which is astonishing and delivers the same spine chilling of James Mangold ‘Logan’ (2017) for its sheer brutality and faithfulness to the video game. But the existence of great trailer always leaves a question: “Does the full product truly delivers?”
Warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) lives peacefully in Japan countryside with his family. Yet there’s this unbearable feeling of an imminent danger, evident in the atmosphere and proven true as Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) coldly (no pun intended) kills Hanzo’s bodyguard in stylistic manner. He’s truly a villain to fear; his cold-blooded nature won’t made begging move his heart and it’s all thanks to Joe Taslim furious performance. As Hanzo return, he realized its too late, but the rage inside him exploded and we, audience (and fans) should rejoice as we finally see the ‘real’ Mortal Kombat – full of over-the-top action and gore – being injected on the screen for the first time. Moreover, there’s already an emotional establishment through a simple scenario even there’s a feeling of not pushing it to the potential. Nevertheless, as the title credit appears, I’m just excited for more to come.
There’s one problem that I noticed though from its opening sequence though. We all know majority of the audience (myself too) are tired with the Bourne franchise action style of handheld camerawork’s and quick cuts and instead asking more of what the John Wick franchise had accomplished. ‘Mortal Kombat’ (2021) fulfilled half of the request, featuring a clean, fluid cinematography movement by Germain McMicking but the editing does disappoint. We finally got the badass fighting sequences in the sacrifice of an absorbing impact to the characters. If it’s not for both of Sanada and Taslim acting, I wouldn’t really care and let their asses fight each other until death takes one of them. Unfortunately, the other cast aren’t top-tiers actor that could portray various roles with various characteristics and the only way to sell the film is through the fights.
This problem persists until the end of the film. I don’t recall how many times I would dozed off and realizing how choppy the editing was, instead remembering how it could end up being Peter Berg ‘Mile 22’ featuring one of the greatest martial artist ‘Iko Uwais’ yet was treated with a migraine of unrecognizable fights (that was an exaggerated metaphor, but you get my point). I come to the film to watch the fights, and ironically its actually there. It had some well-choreographed action, inventive punches and of course, the blood and absurdity nature of the video game. Yet it doesn’t pass the final boss level, trying to match Hollywood standard (which I believe isn’t that low) into a regular Liam Neeson action films, only this time with blood.
I did say that I don’t really care about the story but it’s not a losing situation to have a great one, especially considering the universe of Mortal Kombat could be compared with the Marvel or DC universe. It has a vast characters and diverse world with interesting story to tell, only to miss its chance by fast-paced storytelling or worst, lazy exposition. It felt like the screenwriters just throw everything to fit into one film, and comes with the assumed production companies’ conflict to shorten the running time and so we only receive pieces of information instead of being taken into the world. Oh, and the dialogue is just terribly bad and full of Flash one-liner pop culture in Whedon’s cut of ‘Justice League’ (2017).
The characters here are all no good either; feeling all distant to connect emotionally. We get it though, it’s a hard task to compressed everything in 110 minutes and to tell a deep, three-dimensional personality is merely an impossible task. However, that shouldn’t apply to the main character doesn’t it? The main character is an MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a fresh new character that never appeared in a game which is an interesting take for audience to be invested. Yet the spark was never there, missing the momentum when Miles Morales taking the leap of faith and treated it into a generic event as long as it sticks with the storytelling rules.
Kudos though to the filmmakers to be faithful as possible to video game adaptations. Never have I ever watch a film that tries to please the fans as much as possible (aside from Zack Snyder’s Justice League that I watched last week, but that ain’t video game). The makeup and visual effect team did a great job matching the character design. The set design, even if it’s not as exotic and breathtaking as Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ captures the heart of the game stage. And yes, finally the fatalities arrive at the big screen in a glorious way (be warned however it was all bogged down by the editing). I also like the small details the filmmakers incorporated into the screen, such as its one-liner dialogue or a simple movement when you press X and the character jumps in a silly way. It’s actually a fun movie in the theaters that never really take anything seriously.
Still, I have to say that ‘Mortal Kombat’ is a disappointment thanks to the high anticipation that comes from a great marketing team. I have no doubt that it would satisfy fans (the ones sitting behind me just come “woah” and “damn” everytime new character appears on screen), but for casual audience it would be another brainless action movie that would exit your brain hours after watching. That doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a room for improvement for the sequel though.