Simon McQuoid helmed reboot of the beloved Mortal Kombat franchise has finally seen the light of day on HBO Max, and it surprisingly manages to tackle many obstacles that often plague videogame based films.
The plot kicks off in 17th century Japan where the Lin Kuei warriors, led by the Cryomancer Bi-Han, attack their rival Shirai Ryu ninja clan in a bloody affair. Bi-Han freezes and murders the wife and elder son of Hanzo Hasashi — the Shirai Ryu sensei — who then single-handedly destroys the Lin Kuei assassins.
Bi-Han and Hasashi face-off against each other with the former besting the latter. As he succumbs to his injuries, Hasashi’s body fades away into the Netherrealm (the dimension of hell) while Raiden, the thunder god, appears and rescues the fallen ninja’s surviving daughter.
The narrative cuts to the present where it is established that the Outworld has won nine Mortal Kombat tournaments and if it wins another, it shall be allowed conquer Earth. However, an ancient prophecy foretells that a new set of champions from Earthrealm will unite due to the blood of Hanzo Hasashi to prevent this from passing.
In a desperate attempt to avoid the tournament and the fulfilling of the prophecy, Outworld sorcerer, Shang Tsung orders his champions — Bi-Han (now Sub-Zero), Mileena, Kabal, Reiko, Nitara, Reptile, and Goro — to seek out Earth’s warriors and kill them before they get a chance to compete.
Meanwhile on Earth, special forces officers Jax Briggs and Sonya Blade too are working on recruiting their realm’s champions and find Raiden’s temple to uncover the tournament’s secrets and train.
Their roster consists of MMA fighter Cole Young, a mercenary Kano and a pair of Shaolin monks, Liu Kang and Kung Lao. As the Outworld warriors infiltrate their rival dimension, a vicious race against time begins. Amidst the violent chaos, Raiden tells Cole that he is descended from Hasashi’s bloodline and gives him a spear to free his ancestor from the Netherrealm.
As Sub-Zero corners Cole, he summons Hasashi who rises from hell as Scorpion to avenge his clan and family.
With a huge ensemble, Mortal Kombat’s characters shine owing to the actors who portray them. The pick of the lot is Josh Lawson as Kano who absolutely steals every scene he’s in with his obnoxious personality and derogative humour.
Furthermore, Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada were born to play Sub-Zero and Scorpion respectively. The two embody the rival ninjas to a tee and bring out the immense hatred and venom that brews between these characters.
Lewis Tan plays Cole Young who is a new character created for the film. He is Scorpion’s descendant and acts as POV character for the audience. The viewers learn of the lore and other information alongside him and his family angle and motivations make him more than just a plot piece.
Mehcad Brooks (Jax) and Jessica McNamee (Sonya Blade) too play splendid versions of the special forces fighters. They share a heartfelt moment that explores their relationship and dynamic after Jax loses his arms.
Ludi Lin portrays the beloved Liu Kang and even though his screen time is limited, his calm and collected depiction of the Shaolin monk makes him stand out. Max Huang, who plays Kung Lao, is also cheeky and fun as the bladed hat wielding warrior who is a treat to watch and arguably gets the most badass moment in the film.
Chin Han portrays a mean Shang Tsung but there isn’t enough runtime to explore the character’s depth. Tadanobu Asano (Raiden) and Sisi Stringer (Mileena) too put their best foot forward with what they have to work with.
Director Simon McQuoid has made sure that there is a lot to like in this version of Mortal Kombat. From the fight choreography and gory fatalities to authentic character designs and brilliant visual effects, it has all been done brilliantly. The film benefits a lot from the R rating.
It goes deeper into the lore and explains the reason behind regular humans possessing super powers (like Liu Kang’s fire wielding and Kano’s eye laser) which is a welcome addition.
The sets and overall production design are stellar, and the plot is brimming with extensive fan service and subtle nods to the game that aren’t cheap or out of place.
The story doesn’t feel convoluted despite the presence of so many characters and the narrative sets a precedent of what it wants to be from the get go.
The musical score goes hand in hand with the tone of the film at every moment. The newer rendition of the classic Mortal Kombat theme is an adrenalin pumping affair.
Despite a great experience, Mortal Kombat isn’t a perfect film. It severely falls short in terms of writing with not much time taken to explore fan favourite characters in depth.
If you hope for a character driven masterpiece with layers of emotions and agendas, this film isn’t going to satisfy you. The only backstory we get is that of the rival ninja clans and Cole Young’s association with Hasashi. However, it is not easy to explore all these facets in a videogame adaptation with a 110 minute runtime.
Mortal Kombat could have done with being at least 30 minutes longer and more time could have been taken to develop certain characters, aspects, and scenarios. This speedy narrative may make it difficult for people with no knowledge of the franchise to grasp every concept.
Mortal Kombat 2021 is everything you would want from a film based on this franchise to be. One expects an action packed gore fest and that is exactly what you get.
It may feel like a cliched action flick to some who are strangers to the game, but it is a fun watch owing to its faithfulness to the source material and some great performances.