1995’s Mortal Kombat will always remain one of my favorite video game films. 8-year-old me absolutely loved the fighting scenes, the colorful characters, and of course everyone’s favorite blue and yellow ninjas, Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Even as an adult, the original film and yes, even its terrible sequel to some degree, hit the mark for a good dose of nostalgia. And ever since Annihilation’s release in 1997, I’ve always wanted a proper Mortal Kombat film that does its video game source material justice. With intense action, campy humor, and game-worthy fatalities, 2021’s Mortal Kombat lives up to its namesake to deliver one of the best video game films Hollywood has ever released.
In all honesty, the story of Mortal Kombat doesn’t matter all that much. For centuries, Earthrealm and Outworld have engaged in a tournament called Mortal Kombat where chosen champions fight to the bloody death. Outworld has won nine of the last tournaments and should they win a tenth they will then be able to invade Earthrealm to conquer it and all its inhabitants. It’s the same standard premise as the original 1995 film. Although rather than focus on Liu Kang, this film centers around the original character Cole Young and his connection to the tournament. It’s all pretty simplistic and does feature some big plot holes, but the story takes a backseat to what audiences really want to see; ridiculous characters and brutal fight scenes.
Everything about Mortal Kombat is in service to the video game and credit to the filmmakers for knowing their source material. Scorpion and Sub-Zero are at the core of the story, and the opening scene between their two clans sets the pace for the entire film; it’s vicious and bloody action. The fighting sequences are absolutely fantastic, whereas the story is simply filler used to lead up to the next fight. The combat feels completely grounded despite their magical components. The film attributes that to a person’s “arcana” which is essentially a superpower they achieve after intense training like Liu Kang’s fireballs. Every strike has weight behind it, and characters bleed and react with a realistic brutality that’ll make you wince in disgust and awe as if you were watching gladiatorial combat at the Roman Colosseum. To explain Jax’s cybernetic arms, for instance, the film has him fight Sub-Zero early on in the film and lose to the point where Sub-Zero freezes his arms and then rips them off his body. The detail is amazing as you see the ice crawl up along his arms and its cool blue color slowly turns blood red just before they shatter. It’s exactly how I would imagine the game’s wild characters would fight in a real world setting.
I also have to specifically mention Josh Lawson’s outstanding performance as Kano, the Australian who you love to hate with the laser eye. He’s so over-the-top and ridiculous, more so than any other character, and it absolutely works. Kano is the king of one-liners, so having him say something like “Kano Wins” totally makes sense given his cocky nature. Not all of the game’s quirky elements completely transfer over however, such as hearing Kung Lao say “Flawless Victory” after winning against his opponent. It’s just a little too campy and out of place.
Stil, Mortal Kombat is as close to a flawless victory as the film can get. It’s the best Mortal Kombat film and quite possibly the best video game film. Like the video games, it is gruesomely fun and will no doubt live up to the expectations of franchise fans as it will leave you craving for another round.