Review: 'Mortal Kombat' (2021) Dir. Simon McQuoid
Updated: May 13
Following franchise annihilation in 1997, a major reboot of the classic video-game hits the big-screen for fresh takes on old favourites that could hopefully spawn a new era of Kombat...
Washed up MMA fighter Cole Young (Tan) has a strange dragon mark that, unknown to him, is a calling to take part in a tournament called Mortal Kombat;a tournament overseen by Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Han).
The tournament pits Earth's select group of fighters up against some of the strongest, most dangerous combatants from Outworld itself. With Earth as the prize, the stakes have never been greater, yet Earth has the support of Lord Raiden (Asano) to carry its fighters forward
And Young is not alone; others will join him in the tournament including Sonya Blade (McNamee), Liu Kang (Lin) and Jax (Brooks), all who have been brought together to face a their destiny, defeat Shang Tsung's warriors and save mankind...
24 years after Mortal Kombat: Annihilation called time on the potential cinematic franchise of the video game smash hit, a number of animated features were all audiences had left. While the video game series continued to excel over the years, the only film we were given was the animated Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge in 2020.
Prior to this however, a new live-action reboot was announced in Spring 2019 after nearly a decade of pitches, creative differences and talent changes. Producer James Wan (of Saw and Aquaman fame) headlined the first of the big names attached to the picture. Newcomer Simon McQuoid makes his debut directorial feature and has worked from a story by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, but once more adapted and influenced by the video game created by Ed Boon and John Tobias.
Safe to say, the wait was more than worth it and McQuoid has done a solid jo for his debut film, really honouring and understanding the source material and giving fans of the game (and of outrageous popcorn entertainment) something to really get excited about.
With everything from near perfect attention to the characters, the fighting lore, the grizzly fatalities and the sets, this pays so much respect to the source material and then some.
For this new generation of Kombat lore, and to cater to audiences both familiar with the franchise and those newcomers from the games, McQuoid wipes the slate clean and starts again. Familiar story, new direction. We are given chance to meet familiar heroes (Liu Kang gives T.E Lawrence a run for his money) and learn why we are with them, what Mortal Kombat even is, and why this isn't you typical 1995 family friendly, video-game action film. These classic characters are true to their video game counterparts, with a smattering of lore and new relationships thrown in to make this narrative work.
We aren't thrown into mindless action from the start. We spend first half to get a smattering of character development, flexing their muscles and showcasing a few teasing abilities before the tournament even kicks off. While it may not be for everyone just here for the fighting, it's important to add some meat to the bones and bring characters to light in new ways.
For example, we go back centuries to explore the famous rivalry between Joe Taslim's soon to be Sub-Zero and Hiroyuki Sanada's soon to be Scorpion. This opening sequence is both rather beautiful and harrowing in equal measure, giving us a taste for the cinematography on show and the effort put into set design and cultural authenticity. The old Temple Of Light hideaway in the desert is also another glorious set piece and favours a strong balance of practical effects and CGI enhancement. Benjamin Wallfisch adds some gravitas with his score, mixing both triumphant orchestral swells, bombastic synthetic beats and tender melodies to convey what we see on screen, and that score may or may not appear.
Trying to create and film as much that is practical is evident here from the team, and that's always refreshing and welcoming to see in this generation of movies. The CGI is really effective when used mostly for the special moves and abilities of the fighters, such as razor hats, energy crowbars, fireballs, lasers, cybernetic arms....you name the favourites of the game, and it's brought to life here with dedication and detail.
And with all this taken into mind, Mortal Kombat is a film for the fans of both the martial arts genre and the game franchise. Thankfully, familiar faces like Kano (who nearly steals every scene he is in thanks to a fiery portrayal by Josh Lawson), Kung Lao, Mileena and Kabal are all here replicated brilliantly form their video game counterparts. Keep an eye out for plenty of small nods to the games, but not ones that are obvious and plonked there for effect.
All our lead actors do their roles justice, and give the most authentic portrayal of said character across the franchise. Be it true to their culture or embracing their martial arts, you can't fault the talent on show. Lewis Tan introduces a brand new character to the franchise in Cole Young, a washed up MMA fighter with a mysterious past. Tan has the looks and moves to be a new lead of this potential franchise, almost like the new Liu Kang. He's got lots to lose, and lots to gain, and exploring his choices and questioning his views are what keeps him a little different to the rest of these often super-human, super-gifted fighters.
Since this is a Mortal Kombat offering, we do have the traits that make it a very faithful and very mature adaptation. The grizzly violence and fatalities that are just glorious and honour the games. Techno music! Foul language that flows as much as the blood. High impact martial arts and choreography. Heroes and villains may or may not make it to the end. As said, this is one for the fans and not a family friendly, watered down affair. It puts the 1995 movie in terms of content to shame.
Get ready for a few twists and unexpected turns, and thankfully with nothing as clear as one may think from trailers and marketing. It's one big campaign for future sequels and a new era of Kombat, taking time to cross the t's and dot the i's. It does the hard work early on so there's just fun to be had the more we progress, and I can't wait to see where a sequel will take us.
It takes it's time to establish story, motive, means and method. It's high-octane, popcorn munching fun with great fight sequences and violence that benchmark the games. Near-flawless victory.
'Mortal Kombat' is a co-production between New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions and Broken Road Productions