Video-game adaptations are notoriously hard to pull off, but the task becomes significantly harder when the source material is an arcade fighting game with the plot and characters there just as an excuse to make people fight. After a 1995 adaptation that delivered lukewarm results and its terrible sequel that killed the franchise, 2021’s Mortal Kombat will make the fans of the long-running video game series happy because it turns out that the best way to adapt a Mortal Kombat game is to treat it like a Mortal Kombat game. You consider plot and character development mostly as an afterthought and excel at the only thing gamers love about the series - gory, inventive fatalities.
Mortal Kombat serves as an effective reboot of the story: A ragtag group of skilled martial artists and mercenaries from Earth must learn how to defeat the powerful, magical forces of Outworld. While the setup follows the traditional route of "Outworld has won nine tournaments in a row and must not be allowed to win the tenth," various twists are thrown into the formula to make this film feel distinct from the versions of the story that came before it.
Mortal Kombat tries a few different strategies to turn fighting-game material into a compelling narrative, none of which work because they all bump up against each other. The main one is building the movie around an original character named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a descendant of Sub-Zero's ancient enemy Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Cole seems meant as a viewpoint character through whom the audience can be introduced to the world of Mortal Kombat, but the time spent halfheartedly developing his family life and backstory as a washed-up MMA fighter means less plot space to develop the other characters, all of whom are more recognizable and more visually interesting.
Another structural technique here is the concept of a cosmic tournament in which Earth's best fighters must compete to protect their dimension from invasion; at one point in a particularly monotonous exposition dump, Sonya tells us that "cultures throughout history reference a great tournament”. The tournament concept is certainly one way to justify having a bunch of characters fight one another in hand-to-hand combat, except the tournament never actually happens because the fighters all get restless beforehand and start picking fights with each other anyway! Why so much screen time was wasted talking about a tournament at all is left unclear.
Mortal Kombat has taken most of its biggest lessons from the modern superhero blockbuster while avoiding some of its worst action pitfalls. No faceless, shadowy mobs of antagonists. Just a colorful group of weird villains who can be immolated to crisps without worrying about how it’ll impact corporate strategy. It’s blockbuster filmmaking that manages to be a satisfying action film, thanks to tactile and intimate one-on-one fights—and a “kid with a blank check” carnival ride for those who love the franchise. It might not fix video game movies overnight, but Mortal Kombat might finally deliver their sweepingly bad reputation a devastating fatality. And yes, it has a “Get over here!” moment so good it’ll give anyone who’s spent time with the arcade fighter goosebumps.
Final Score – [7.2/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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