Mortal Kombat is a video game franchise that seems to be a great source for films, thanks to a rich lore and an array of characters. Which is why they made two movies based on the original video games, and released a reboot version last month in theaters and on HBO Max. I’ve already seen it and I thought it was okay. It was definitely better than Mortal Kombat Annihilation, which received a tomatometer score of 2%.
It could have been better though. Today, I’m going to talk about five things that I really liked about the movie, and five things that ruined it for me. I will be talking about specific details so if it isn’t already obvious, there are BIG SPOILERS ahead. Consider yourself warned.
1. Like: Awesome Fights that used the Character’s Powers and Special Moves
This movie is based on a popular fighting game, so I know that its fans would be expecting lots of fighting. They’d want to see their favorite characters execute different special moves and attacks. And in that aspect, this new Mortal Kombat movie delivers.
I only played the first three Mortal Kombat games, and I’m not familiar with anything after Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. So personally, I’m glad that most of the characters in the film are from those first three games. Most of the fighting, especially the one-on-one battles, were well done. Whenever a character used a special move, the move made sense and was a good fit in the fight choreography. It was neat to see Liu Kang throw fireballs and do a bicycle kick.
The best moves, however, are the “Fatalities”, and I’m glad a few of them were included. Kano’s heart rip, Jax’s head clap, Kung Lao’s body slice – I loved seeing them on the big screen. And I’m glad that they were able to sneak in as many fatalities as they did.
2. Dislike: Forced Inclusion of the Video Game Catch Phrases
One of the aspects that were popular about the Mortal Kombat games, and fighting games in general, are the voiced catch phrases. Even people who don’t play a lot of video games know about Street Fighter’s “Hadouken” and “Shoryuken”, right?
However, most of Mortal Kombat’s popular catchphrases were uttered by an announcer, more often by Shao Kahn, who is known to be watching over the fights. So most of the time, when the producers tried to insert these catchphrases in the movie, they felt forced.
This only worked for me twice; the first was when Kano said “Kano wins” after he killed Reptile. His character was very talkative and saying this fit both his character and the scene where it happened. In the rest of the scenes, it felt like the producers were just pandering to the fans. Kung Lao saying “flawless victory” and Liu Kang saying “fatality” just doesn’t work. When Shang Tsung said “your soul is mine”, that worked because he’s the guy who actually says that.
Hanzo, a.k.a. Scorpion, yelling “Get over here!” was also out of place. The character in the movie did not speak a word of English, so the scene stood out like a sore thumb. I would have liked it more if he had said this in Japanese, then we saw the famous words in English subtitles. Or maybe someone else should have said this – more on this later.
3. Like: Kano and Sub-Zero
Most of the characters in this version of Mortal Kombat were just flat and bland. And I understand why – the movie had a lot of characters and had very little time to develop them. This made characters like Kano and Sub-Zero stand out for me.
Kano is such a delight to watch. I hope the actor playing him, Josh Lawson, gets more high profile work because he did a really good job here. He made me like Kano so much, I started hoping for some kind of redemption for the character.
On the flipside, we have Sub-Zero. A character who doesn’t say a lot, but there’s just something special in the way that Joe Taslim portrayed him. People say that it’s tough for an actor to really deliver emotions if their face is covered. Joe Taslim’s icy stares and the confidence that his eyes conveyed really made the character menacing. Out of all of Shang Tsung’s lackeys, Sub-Zero was the scariest because of his portrayal. I also hope he gets more high profile roles after this movie.
4. Dislike: The Exclusion of Johnny Cage
Of the original Mortal Kombat lineup of fighters, my favorite was Johnny Cage. So I really hated that he wasn’t part of the reboot. I understand the reason why he was excluded. They were introducing a new character, and needed to make time for a lot of existing characters already.
But in my biased perspective, it would take less time to explain the Johnny Cage character. Like Kano, he’s got a funny personality in the video games. I mean, one of his finishing moves has him giving his beaten opponent a signed picture of himself. He could have been this movie’s lovable goofball, similar to Star-Lord or recent portrayals of Thor. It would have fit the character, and this would have added one more memorable character to a cast that’s mostly forgettable.
5. Like: The Hanzo / Bi-Han opening fight
I contemplated on whether I should classify this as a Like or a Dislike. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this fight. In only a few minutes, this fight told us a lot of things. First, that the battles in this movie are going to be really good. We saw how lethal Bi-Han was, even before he became Sub-Zero. And we know why Hanzo has so much hatred for his nemesis.
But this sequence also gave a promise that the film wasn’t able to deliver. We thought this was going to be a really good movie. It wasn’t. It wasn’t horrible, but like I said, we expected this to be better than it was. It’s never a good idea to make a film with it’s best moments happening at the very start. As good as this sequence was, it also doesn’t pay off into anything important. Let me talk about this more in the next section.
6. Dislike: Cole Young as the New Protagonist
I understand why the producers felt the need to add the Cole Young character to the film. Unlike the rest of the characters, Cole is just a regular guy like us. He’s down on his luck, and he’s into MMA because that’s the only way he knows how to provide for his family. The other Mortal Kombat protagonists aren’t exactly relatable. Sonya and Jax are Special Forces officers. Liu Kang and Kung Lao have been training as monks since childhood. Johnny Cage is a Hollywood action star. Raiden is a god.
But the question is, do we really need a character who’s closer to a normal human being in order to appreciate a story? I mean, they didn’t add regular, every day people to Avengers or Justice League. In my opinion, a story like Mortal Kombat works even without the average Joe.
And I don’t think that the plot of Cole being a descendant of Hanzo Hasashi was used properly. It’s not like this plays a vital part in the film. It’s the reincarnated version of Hanzo who killed Sub-Zero, and it’s not explicitly shown that Cole was needed for this to play out. Maybe if Cole had also inherited Hanzo’s fighting style and became the present day version, with Hanzo’s spirit possessing him and giving him the hellish powers, I would have accepted it more.
Now that Sub-Zero is dead, what purpose does the Cole Young character serve? It doesn’t help that Cole has the lamest arcana out of all the fighters in the movie. I think this movie would have been better off without him. Some of the elements of the character could have been given to others, e.g. Sonya, Johhny Cage, and Liu Kang.
7. Like: The Bad Guys Acting with Urgency
In the original video game, the 1995 film, and the reboot, Outworld has won the last nine Mortal Kombat tournaments. If they win this one, Outworld will be allowed to conquer Earth. So the stakes are supposed to be high. And Shang Tsung is behaving exactly as he should, with a lot resting on this tenth tournament.
I liked that, even before the start of the tournament, he’s already securing his victory by having Earth’s would-be champions killed. Despite this reboot not even getting to the tournament proper, I like this change a lot. They are acting with urgency, so the situation really feels an urgent one.
8. Dislike: Raiden’s Ineptitude
Well, it would have felt urgent if the other side was also acting that way. But geez, is Raiden incompetent or what? He’s supposed to be the protector of the Earthrealm, but he looks content just watching from the sidelines even as the Earth’s champions are getting picked off one by one.
It was Jax and Sonya who started realizing the importance of the dragon mark. They started chasing after the bearers of the dragon mark, with Jax getting one himself after killing another champion. They took Kano under custody and protection. Jax’s interference saved Cole and his family from getting murdered by Sub-Zero. They had to take it upon themselves to venture out, looking for wherever Raiden is.
He does make a little effort in protecting the remaining champions once they’ve reached his base of operations. But even then he doesn’t do a good job, with one of them ending up dead after Shang Tsung’s second assault. I know that the gods should not meddle, but the other side is already playing dirty. Again – if the Earthrealm loses this upcoming tournament, that’s it. The Outworld will invade. What a protector.
9. Like: The “Dragon Mark” and “Arcana” ideas
In general, I liked the idea of the dragon mark and how it granted the person with it special powers, or “arcana”. It helps explain why these fighters could do what they do, and how people like Kano got involved.
It’s an idea that can easily justify how people like Johnny Cage and Kurtis Stryker could become champions and gain special powers. Sure, not everyone’s arcana is good (I’m looking at you, Jax and Cole), but the general idea itself is sound. Maybe they can kill off Cole in the sequel and have him replaced by Ermac.
10. Dislike: Shang Tsung as Ruler of the Outworld
Finally, a minor nitpick but I needed a fifth dislike so here we go. It’s just weird to see Shang Tsung presented as the ruler of Outworld because… well, he’s not supposed to be. He’s just one of Shao Kahn’s lieutenants.
He’s just making sure that Shao Kahn can invade Earth. I guess he’s supposed to be the main bad guy until someone from Earth actually wins the next tournament. But it’s going to be weird for audiences who thought he’s the big boss, only to see him begging the real bad guy in the future.
The new Mortal Kombat movie has a few things that I liked, and some things that I didn’t. To be honest, the issues that I had with this movie outweighed what I liked about it. It was hard to be invested in the main characters. I actually ended up liking some of the bad guys a lot more. But the film has enough entertainment value. This movie is going to be good enough for Mortal Kombat fans who want to see their favorite fighters in a live action film, doing all these fights and special moves. Well, except Johnny Cage fans.