Movie Review – Mortal Kombat (2021)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film is based on a video game that came out in 1992. It was a very popular arcade game that eventually was available in homes on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis consoles. It was simply a game where two people fought each other in a martial arts contest. The first live-action film was adapted in 1995. It was a box office success. The sequels didn’t fare well, but that 1995 film was a hit. Obviously, due to the nature of the source material, it was made to be a part of the long list of martial arts films and part of the martial arts genre, which has more of a root in Asian culture. Masters in the form like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan dominate the genre. In terms of choreography and talent or skill, that 1995 film is nowhere near the level of even the least work from Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. Even though both those masters could do things that felt a step down, the 1995 film really felt like it was aimed more at children or young people rather than adults. I’m not an expert in martial arts films, but I would compare that 1995 flick to other children’s films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) or even children’s television like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993).
This adaptation by Simon McQuoid is in many ways remaking or rebooting that 1995 film, but McQuoid wants to make it clear that his film is certainly not for children. It is for adults with its brutal violence – that is more in line with the spirit of the video game, and a lot of cursing and swear words. Over the past 20 years, younger Asian actors like Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais have really upped the game in terms of the incredible martial arts that has been put on screen. I wouldn’t say that this film is as brutal, intense or even as well choreographed as the films from Uwais, Jaa, Yen or Li, but in lieu of getting something from those young martial artists, this is the next best thing. It’s in fact a fun ride from beginning to end.
Lewis Tan (Wu Assassins and Into the Badlands) stars as Cole Young, a MMA fighter who is down on his luck. He’s struggling to take care of his family, which includes his wife and daughter. All his life, he’s had a mysterious birthmark in the shape of a dragon that he never knew the meaning. It’s revealed that he’s the descendant of a powerful warrior and, as such, he’s been chosen to be the champion to fight in an inter dimensional tournament. Unlike the 1995 film, the tournament isn’t so formal or organized like a MMA or boxing match. It’s a death tournament where one side has to kill the other and little rules exist. Cole simply has to fight to protect himself and his family when the other side attacks out of nowhere.
Before going into anything else, I must say that this film is justice for Lewis Tan or #JusticeForLewisTan. Four years ago, it was reported that Lewis Tan was in consideration to be cast in the Netflix series Iron Fist (2017). The series was based on published material from Marvel Comics. Characters from Marvel have been adapted into a series of blockbuster films called the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, which has made billions in the box office. The 2017 series was essentially a spin-off from the MCU.
Casting Tan in that role would’ve made him the first, Asian lead in any MCU property. This would have been meaningful in a time when Hollywood was accused of yellowface or whitewashing, particularly of Asian characters in films. Recently films like Ghost in the Shell (2017), Power Rangers (2017), Death Note (2017), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), Doctor Strange (2016) and The Last Airbender (2010) were accused of whitewashing. In those films, Asian characters were instead cast with white actors. Often, Asian actors aren’t even considered for the role. Some are, but often it’s never reported on who those Asian people are. The news about Lewis Tan in 2017 was the first time in recent memory that something like that was reported and resulted in such a backlash online. Two years later, Tan was cast in Wu Assassins (2019) but it was clear to anyone that Tan is a tall, well-built, gorgeous son of a martial artist who should be a movie star along side so many and this film is a step in that right direction.
Like with the video game, this film centers on a series of fights between two people. This film strings a narrative around those fights in a more compelling way than the 1995 flick. There’s about a half-dozen or so of these one-on-one fights that culminate in a group fight. Each fight is fun or interesting in its own way. The first really establishes the brutality and the fatality that comes. It’s a fight between Hanzo Hasashi, a ninja living in feudal Japan, played by Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine and The Last Samurai) and Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero, a ninja from a rival clan who has the power to create and manipulate ice, played by Joe Taslim (Fast & Furious 6 and The Raid). Unlike the 1995 film, the fights never feel fake or staged or like punches are pulled. The fights here feel real.
Rounding out the cast are Jessica McNamee (The Meg and Battle of the Sexes) who plays Sonya Blade, a Special Forces lieutenant, and Mehcad Brooks (Supergirl and Necessary Roughness) who plays Jax, a Special Forces major who served along side Sonya. There’s also Ludi Lin (Aquaman and Power Rangers) who plays Liu Kang, a Shaolin monk from China, Tadanobu Asano (Midway and Silence) who plays Lord Raiden, the god of thunder, and finally Chin Han (Skyscraper and Ghost in the Shell) who plays Shang Tsung, an evil warlock from another dimension. They’re all well utilized and given moments to shine, and it comes across mostly as fun.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some crude references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.
In theaters and on HBO Max.