Mortal Kombat (2021)
The new reboot is lazily crafted and tonally dull
Time and time again Hollywood will continue to make attempts at cracking the formula of the videogame movie. There have been modest box office results with the likes of Lara Croft (2001) or Angry Birds (2016), but no film has been a runaway success. Nevertheless, studios continue to pour money into such adaptations, and we’ve finally reached the point where we’re rebooting old videogame adaptations.
Mortal Kombat (2021) is a remake of the 1995 film of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the incredibly popular fighting videogame. The plot revolves around evil forces led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han) from a dimension known as the Outerrealm who comes to our world (Earthrealm) to take over, and only a set amount of chosen fighters can stop them, led by a potentially prophetic fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan).
The Mortal Kombat video games simply provide opportunities for one-on-one fights with incredibly graphic violence. Its’ simple yet excessive premise made it a runaway hit with new entries every couple of years (the most recent in 2019). The film adaptations of the 1990s were a different story. Mortal Kombat (1995) proved to be a modest success, even if it indulged in over-the-top cheesiness, laughable plot, and struggling performances. With diminishing returns (and Hurricane Katrina destroying the sets in 2005), the film saga was abandoned, only for the recent reboot craze engulfing Hollywood today to resurrect it.
Film reboots or new adaptations demand a certain seriousness and tact in today. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun (ask Deadpool (2016)), but studios can’t get away with the same lazy trashiness that they used to in the 90s. As such, Mortal Kombat needed to adapt itself into modern times, shedding the tone of its original film. Nevertheless, to dig too deep into a straight-faced tone as in the video games can prove to be counterintuitive. The lore and story from the games is so bareboned and ridiculous, it would prove to be rather embarrassing to make a dramatic film adaptation. Herein lies one of the first problems with this new Mortal Kombat remake; it seems to have conflicting messages of seriousness and comedy.
This Mortal Kombat is helmed by first time director Simon McQuoid, and you can tell that jumping headfirst into a big studio film was a bad idea. McQuoid seems to lose the grasp and tonal continuity of his film. This is especially noticeable with the actors, a majority of whom seem to think they are in a serious Shakespearean tale, while a handful of others are playing over-the-top obnoxious caricatures. The action scenes, are chockfull of irregular CGI work, some of which is impressive, but a lot of which stands out horribly as a badly-rendered cartoon. The plot, meanwhile, seems to have been barely hashed out, with the only objective of a world-ending fight occurring in its finale; the rest of the film seems to be wandering aimlessly around, inserting random fights until it can garner the runtime to be qualified as a feature film.
This iteration of Mortal Kombat also feels strangely out of touch with the times. It is no longer acceptable to have action films where the women are constantly having to be rescued, or where the minimum character work simply means giving the protagonist a cardboard child and wife. There is also some slightly unchecked machismo and toxic masculinity, which seems to go by unnoticed, as if the filmmakers were not sure what they were promoting. 2021 films demand some sort of restraint or at least awareness as to the dangerous messages that you are promoting. I won’t go into the use of excessive violence in the film, as I feel that is something that has been over-discussed in regard to the source videogames for decades. I’ll only venture to say that many scenes seem to want to be bloody for the sake of it, rather than for some narrative or tonal reason.
While this version of Mortal Kombat does fix issues regarding the white-washing of the 90s films, that is hardly something to laud since it is a bare minimum expectancy. This Mortal Kombat brings an incredibly lazy approach to character and plot, so that even its ridiculous action scenes with seesawing CGI will fail wake you from the stupor you’re likely to fall in while watching this film.