Movies based on video games have always been interesting. By that, I mean they’re almost always terrible with some diamonds in the rough. Before the recent successes of Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, the best video game movie was 1995’s Mortal Kombat, based on the hit fighting game series. It’s not the most terrific movie, but compared to other video game movies, it excelled. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for its sequel. Now, New Line Cinema has finally revisited the game series as source material by creating the latest video game film. Does this latest adaptation of Mortal Kombat give gamers that amazing video game movie they’ve been hoping for? Is it a flawless victory or is this franchise finished before it takes off? Let’s journey forth to find out.
This movie is based on a fighting video game series, so the action needs to deliver, and it absolutely goes above and beyond here. The hand-to-hand martial arts fighting is well-choreographed, fast-paced, and intense. Plus, it’s blended well with the CGI superpowers used by each of the characters throughout. That combination is more than enough to match, and even stand out from, the gratuitous superhero films that release each year. If you’re a fan of the action seen in either classic Bruce Lee films, modern comic book movies, or especially both, then Mortal Kombat will be a treat for you.
What helps the action excel is that the special effects are fantastic and the filmmakers take full advantage of their R rating. The violence is as extreme as the games are (the original Mortal Kombat game was the reason for ESRB ratings being established and received the first ever M rating), which is especially fun to see in a modern movie. Hearts are ripped out, blood flows, people are cut in half, and it all looks phenomenal.
If you’re a fan of the video games, then you are sure to love the movie. This film is an absolute love letter to the Mortal Kombat game franchise. It celebrates the series while also recreating their key elements. There are Fatalities and other moves that are identical to how they’re pulled off in the games. The characters are perfectly-cast. They each look and act perfect for the roles. Many of the iconic catchphrases, like “Flawless victory” and Scorpion’s “Get over here!” are uttered throughout the movie. Even Liu Kang’s leg sweep spam is poked fun at during the story. It’s truly hard to not enjoy the movie if you enjoy the games.
There is outstanding character development from many characters, not just the protagonist. Quite a few of the major players in the story overcome hardships and learn lessons, which is always nice to see. A unique mechanic to showcase that in the movie is that they need to get past their personal obstacles to unlock their “arcana,” which is their special abilities. It adds an enjoyable visual to their character development that other movies typically don’t have.
It’s not all gore and brutality. There are also some rather humorous moments as well. There are jabs at Kung Lao about his arcana being his hat, a joke regarding the spelling of “Mortal Kombat,” and even a couple of instances of slapstick. Kano completely steals the show when it comes to the humor. He hilariously talks down to the other characters, has witty lines, and serves as a verbal punching bag for many of the others.
Mortal Kombat also offers fun fantasy elements in general. The multiple dimensions, magical abilities, and monster designs are all exciting and provide a sense of immersion into this world that hasn’t been felt since the release of the Lord of the Rings movies. If you are looking for a good fantasy film that’s not Harry Potter or LOTR, you’ll likely find that level of enjoyment with Mortal Kombat.
The protagonist of the film is someone who has never even been in the video games before. Why make a movie based on source material if you’ll center the story around someone who isn’t in that source material? Imagine seeing a movie of The Hunger Games, but instead of following the adventures of Katniss, it’s all about someone new who hangs out with Katniss. The protagonist here may be a fine character, but given that the series is chock-full of characters and not all of them are present in the movie, the story could have followed any number of the ones we know. It was overall a really strange decision to make.
There’s a lot of talk about a tournament that needs to be fought to keep the Outworlders from taking over Earthrealm, but we never actually see that tournament. This whole story takes place before that tournament, causing the buildup for it to go nowhere. Hopefully, we do actually get to see it in an eventual sequel.
Much of this story is just set-up for future films, but there’s no way of knowing if sequels will actually happen. We’ll likely see more films in the series given how well this one performed, but it’s still a bold move to assume that before the franchise is even started. It’s a fun movie, but not great as a standalone story since it’s left so open.
Because there are so many important characters that require their time in the spotlight, others don’t get enough screen time. There are a few who don’t get many lines whatsoever and others who hint at interesting backstories that we don’t get to see more of. Kabal briefly mentions that Kano is the reason he has to wear his mask and breathing gear, but doesn’t tell us much more. Nitara is just sort of there to fight a little bit before quickly getting killed off. Hopefully we see more of certain characters in any future installments.
There’s a rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero that also required a bit more of an explanation. They’re from feuding clans, but why don’t their clans get along? For such a major subplot that plays an important part in the beginning and end of the film, one would think they’d let the audience know more about it.
Even though some plot points aren’t explained as in-depth as they should be, much of the film is a little too exposition-heavy. Most of the dialogue is explaining various events from the past, the magical abilities, the Mortal Kombat tournament, what the dragon tattoos mean, characters’ individual backstories, and other details important for world-building. Because of this, not a lot of the dialogue allows for the characters’ personalities to shine through or for fun character interactions to take place. When the dialogue is more organic, it’s great. It’s just that too much of the story is taken up by the exposition.
Mortal Kombat pays homage to the video game franchise it’s based on by recreating fatalities, catchphrases, and character designs, poking fun at some elements of the series, and being enjoyably hyper-violent. The action is a true spectacle to behold, and does make one want to play a fighting video game immediately after watching it. It’s unfortunately held back, though, by too much exposition, teasing things we don’t get to see, and focusing on a character who fans of the source material have no reason to care for. It’s by no means a flawless victory, but it is a fun fantasy martial arts movie. It still doesn’t quite put video game movies on top like comic book movies currently are, but it’s certainly worth the watch.
Rating: 7 / 10