There are two Mortal Kombat movies (we’re ignoring Annihilation), and they’re both very much products of their time.
The original Mortal Kombat’s appeal stems, I feel, from it knowing any better. The soundtrack is obnoxiously brilliant, whilst the costumes are literal copies of those found in the games. The special effects were decent for the time, and it had some real fighters in the shape of Robin Shou (Lui Kang) and Keith Cook (Reptile). There wasn’t much lore to incorporate, so it gleefully chewed the scenery as it threw characters in, and just had a good time. It’s still one of the best video game movies, with choices it made still reverberating around the franchise.
New Mortal Kombat exists in very different time. Nowadays films are scrutinized from the moment they’re announced, with the fear of failure all around. You can feel it wanting to carve it’s own space whilst remaining faithful. To do all this whilst giving fans the gore they expect, juggling lots of characters, and creating an entirely new character is hard). This leads to it tripping over itself, spending too much time on things that don’t matter and not enough on what does.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching Scott Adkins and Corridor Crew over the past year, which has opened my eyes to how fights are best displayed. Wide shots with as few takes as possible. Stunt people and action stars really go through the mill for our entertainment, so I want to see it. I want to see them taking the punches and hitting the ground. A shot of Tan’s Cole beautifully leaping over a high fence and sticking the landing stood out. This film has the performers to do it all, so show them off and stop cutting! I want to see the exquisite costumes and skill on display.
The film begins with a beautiful scene between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, which the rest of the film can’t really match. ‘MK21’ is clearly trying to tell a story and build its characters. But it needed either more time or to be more focused. Perhaps then it could have felt like Mortal Kombat, rather than the prelude to the actual tournament. It’s like a prequel before the first film even exists in many ways. I know these people can fight, so I didn’t need an extended training sequence. We needed more time with the villains, which could have let us understand Outworld a bit more. Throwing in a brand-new character when you could have pulled from any number to serve as the ‘everyman’ probably doesn’t help either.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. There’s plenty to like here. Kano is hilarious, making several well pointed jabs at other characters and situations. Scorpion and Sub-Zero look fantastic, with a clear reverence for the source material. Mortal Kombat is a reasonable franchise starter. It may not be as memorable as its predecessor, but it deserves another round.