Mortal Kombat review – plenty of videogame gore but a surprising lack of fun

Mortal Kombat film review 2021

Cast: Lewis Tan Jessica McNamee Josh Lawson Tadanobu Asano Mehcad Brooks. Directed by Simon McQuoid.

Mortal Kombat is that most worrisome of things: a new movie based on a video game. It was previously the basis of Paul W.S. Anderson’s dismal 90s offering, and then an even worse sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. 

This film, the debut of director Simon McQuoid, starts out promisingly enough in 1600s Japan, with a sword handy Hiroyuki Sanada having a fight with Joe Taslim’s ice wielding villain. It’s a confident prologue, beautifully shot and offering the hint of a mainstream Hong Kong action film, the sort John Woo might have made.

Things very quickly go downhill. For reasons beyond understanding the filmmakers have opted to once again fall into the Resident Evil / Silent Hill / Assassin’s Creed trap of just creating a new character to be the protagonist. Lewis Tan is fine as Cole Young but the character has no personality, and in the world of a video game movie where every character is two-dimensional but recognisable this is an issue. A fairly poor MMA fighter he discovers he’s descended from Sanada and destined to fight in another realm.

Ludi Lin and Max Huang in Mortal Kombat 2021

Luckily, the rest of the characters ripped from the games work well. Jessica McNamee and Mehcad Brooks acquit themselves well as Sonya Blade and Jax respectively, while Chin Han and Tadanobu Asano ham it all the way up. But really the most fun is had by Josh Lawson as obnoxious Aussie brawler Kano.

The film has a style, the early scenes show promise, and the shift into the modern-day feels like a movie from the 90s, but very quickly the CGI takes over and you lose a lot of the boots on the ground action feel that made that prologue so compelling. The casting of The Raid’s Joe Taslim adds to this, the fights feel very clunky, without much grace. Some can feel a little boring at times.

That said, the movie knows to deliver on the finishing moves and the catchphrases and it does so with a knowing relish, the blood splatter is at least enjoyable and doesn’t cop out of being a violent action movie. CG bloods gushes from every wound and the finishing moves are staged so they look like the game.

The film, however, never really turns into the original Mortal Kombat; it never turns into the tournament. That might well be because the film wants to build up a trilogy and save that for a sequel, and the end does suggest fan favourite Johnny Cage is on the horizon (John Cena is perfect for the role FYI), but there just isn’t enough in the fights when do they come to really keep you going.

Ultimately your enjoyment of the film will depend on how you feel about loud thunderous music, the occasional hint of that epic dance track, and the liberal use of fake blood spray in your movie. For people who love the game franchise this will feel like a greatest hits compilation, showcasing what you can get from the video games if you have more time to invest, and it’s clear the film is much more sensitive towards racial casting instead of James Remar playing an Asian role. The lack of A-listers might work for the first go-around but there’s a decided lack of campiness, and a film that involves people growing bionic limbs and fighting gas mask ninjas needs a bit more fun. 

It’s certainly not a fatality.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.