‘Mortal Kombat’: Balancing fatality and realism

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In “Mortal Kombat” (2021), writer Greg Russo and director Simon McQuoid aspire to blend the franchise’s brutal violence and complex storyline into something that is also emotional and grounded. Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a normal guy from Earth thrown into the fight of Mortal Kombat with fan favorite fighters Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks) by his side, all trying to stop Shang Tsung (Chin Han) from his malicious deeds before the beginning of the 10th Mortal Kombat tournament.

The narrative is fully aware of the possibility of its audience not being very knowledgeable about the lore. Protagonist Cole Young, an original character, is meant to serve as a guide for newcomers to understand the world of “Mortal Kombat.” Nevertheless, the film stays grounded in its origins: the movements and writing for the characters had an over-the-top video game quality with moments of comedic relief that grounds them to reality. The comic relief, a role mostly filled by Kano, is often used to comment on the violent absurdity of what is transpiring on film. This tactic helps to transition us into the world as opposed to being thrown in.

As far as the visuals go, the graphics and fights are fun to watch. It feels like watching a scene in the video game. The characters make subtle movements that imitate the signature moves of their video game counterparts, but don’t shy away from other fighting styles. In the battles with Scorpion and Sub-Zero especially, they matched each other with different intense rhythms that felt fluid and based in real life martial arts. The other battles had more of a video game stiffness and incorporated the combo moves you can unlock in the game. It is simply the visuals and graphics that make me recommend that the film be seen in theaters, since it would feel even more immersive.

As with the visuals, the writing also paid homage to the source material. Characters would say lines directly from their roles in the games, like “finish him” or “fatality.” Not once does this hint at its video game origins feel forced. It feels like a natural part of their characters.

In the calmer moments, the character dynamics are developed well. We see the love that Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) have for each other, and we get a bit of backstory, especially on Liu Kang.

The downside to the movie is that while it builds on the protagonists of the film, it doesn’t explain much about the details of the Outworld, the oppressive realm of the film’s antagonists. It also doesn’t have any regard for the consequences of its major actions. A big plot point they gloss over is that the villain Shang Tsung is breaking the rules of Mortal Kombat by eliminating Earth’s heroes before the tournament. The film seems to foreshadow consequences to his actions, but they never happen. The only god around to hold him to account is the lightning god, Lord Raiden, who serves as a deus ex machina to get the protagonists out of a situation, but his role in the film is never fully fleshed out.

Verdict: “Mortal Kombat” is an entertaining watch, but viewers should either pay close attention to the film to understand the full lore or have previous context before watching. It’s open ending shows clear intent for a sequel.

 

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