Mortal Kombat 2021 Review: A Better Movie Than Its Predecessors
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Review: Mortal Kombat 2021 Is Far From A Flawless Victory, But Still A Lot Of Fun

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BY April 25, 2021

Mortal Kombat is one of those multi-media franchises that does not seem to go away. In many ways, it’s impervious to any fatalities. 1995 saw a film adaptation that didn’t really do anything to add to the franchise, other than a badass theme song. Its sequel wasn’t any better, just a lot more outrageous and silly. Which was totally fine for a time when ‘adapting’ just meant taking whatever from a different media, and transplanting it into whatever they were trying to sell at the time. We live in a time now though, where the content matters and adaptations take a lot more skill and nuance than before. And on that front, this Mortal Kombat 2021 review will discuss how the new movie totally succeeds. The new Mortal Kombat dramatically improves on its previous films and is still an incredibly fun movie to watch. 

The Journey To The Mortal Kombat 2021 Review

Young. Image via HBO Max.

Mortal Kombat was one of the best fighting games after Street Fighter. The combination of interesting characters and some unique concepts made it one best video games in general, for decades now. The story of champions fighting in a mortal combat for the fate of the world was intriguing. Adding to it were even more funky and crazy characters from different realms, with different powers, which made things that much more fun. The 1995 movie transplanted those video game elements into a 101 minute feature film and expected it to all make sense. It absolutely did not.

Sure, there was a certain level of crazy fun seeing human characters not even flinching at the appearance of a lightning-God or four-armed, man-bun-wearing creature from another realm. But audiences took it all at face value, and it was honestly, just fine. Not very accessible to non-video game fans, but a certain amount of wild fun for those willing to buy into the premise. Mortal Kombat 2021 though, definitely improves a lot of those elements. There’s a story, and engaging characters that actually have an arc within said story. But then, the multi-armed gym-bro makes an appearance here too, so it’s not all fun and fatalities. 

The Action, Cast And World Building Is Just Enough

Mortal Kombat 2021 review Scorpion. Image via HBO Max.

Mortal Kombat is all about a tournament between two realms that occur only once every generation. The presense of a dragon brand somewhere on their body is how champions are chosen to represent their respective realm. The winning realm must win ten tournaments in a row, at which point, they invade the losing side, causing devastation and death. The story of the movie begins as Outworld looks to invade the Mortal Realm, aka Earth, and has won nine out of the ten tournaments required to do so. A new generation of champions must arise to defeat them, however, they need to rally around the blood-heir of an ancient warrior. 

Already, the story has Lord Of The Rings level of stakes and back story. However, Mortal Kombat 2021 goes a further by anchoring this huge premise in a more personal story of that ancient warrior. The movie opens with a tragic sequence featuring Hiroyuki Sanada’s Hanzo Hasashi, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s a massive action sequence, grounded in some touching moments, which the film released early, as part of its promotion. From here on out, the movie continues these amazing sequences of character moments coupled with ridiculous fantasy-inspired action. 

The Casting Of The New Movie Won Over Fans Even Before The Movie’s Release

Mortal Kombat 2021 review cousins. Image via HBO Max.

A huge reason of my praises in this Mortal Kombat 2021 review, is because of the casting. Looking back at the previous live-action franchise, the martial arts were not as great as one would remember. Given that the 90’s saw the rise of great martial artists and action stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Jean Claude Van-Damme, the action of Mortal Kombat 1995 wasn’t anywhere close to their realm of coordination. And say what you will about Mortal Kombat 2021, but the fight sequences do not disappoint. And this has a lot to do with the amazingly talented star cast. 

Fans felt this way from the moment the first preview images for Mortal Kombat 2021 debuted. The movie services fans in the biggest way, by casting actual action stars and martial arts trained actors in a movie which is literally all about fighting. Opening the story with Sanada, who is a critically acclaimed actor recognized for his amazing roles in The Last Samurai and Westworld, is just genius. And then, to go on and introduce actors like Joe Taslim and Lewis Tan, established martial artists in their own right, further enhances the authenticity of the action sequences of this movie. 

Mortal Kombat 2021 Delivers The Promise Of An Action Packed Good Time

Mortal Kombat 2021 review Sub Zero. Image via HBO Max.

Given the history of the Mortal Kombat franchise, it’s a mistake to expect Game Of Thrones-level storytelling and execution. However, the movie absolutely delivers on its promise of a great time, without having to suspend your disbelief too much. There is enough story, exposition, and world-building to enjoy the movie on its own. Yes, if you dig deeper, the seams do show, but it’s all cleverly overwhelmed with the insane martial arts mixed in with supernatural and fantasy elements. 

The story aspects are also an improvement over the previous movie. Writers Greg Russo & Dave Callaham make a great effort to build this world, including tying in new aspects into the story, such as just how the champions of Earth Realm are chosen. Whereas, the 1995 version just had everyone show up on a rickety boat. Even some of the aspects from the video games get a bit more explanation here, like the Fatalities. And they also happen slightly more organically. I say slightly because, pulling the heart out of a reptile creature with your bare hands is still an otherwise outrageous manouevre. No matter what the explanation. 

Where Mortal Kombat Lacks Is In Its World’s History

Mortal Kombat 2021 review Jaxx. Image via HBO Max.

One of the more lacking aspects of the story is the thousands of years-long rivalry between Hasashi and Bi-Han (Taslim). Which is the basis of the character moments in this story. Why Bi-Han was so intent on destroying Hasashi’s bloodline in the opening sequence is never fully explained. There’s an indication that Hasashi is Japanese while Han is Chinese, implying a clan war? But beyond references to their respective clans, it’s not entirely clear. There’s also the question of why no other descendent of Hasashi’s fought in the nine previous Mortal Kombats before this. Especially if an apparent blood connection is so crucial to Earth Realm’s victory? Like I said, the movie is far from a flawless victory. 

And even though, Tadanobu Asano did an awesome job as Lord Raiden, I still enjoy Christopher Lambert’s version of the character. But that could also be that the lightning aspects just harkened back to Highlander for me. But in the case of this movie and its previous iterations, there is definitely more than just one way to play a God.

Tsung. Image via HBO Max.

After everything is said and done though, Mortal Kombat 2021 falls more in the realm of a Fast and Furious movie. It’s an out-of-this-world premise, with serious characters, in a story that blends that premise into serviceable character journeys. It’s an incredibly fun time that revels in its video game source material. I’ll end this Mortal Kombat 2021 review by absolutely recommending it to audiences that are looking for mindless entertainment, with some substance. The movie is pretty great, without expecting too much from it, giving you exactly what it promises from the jump.

Mortal Kombat is now playing in select theatres and is streaming on HBO Max. 

How did you like (or hate) the new Mortal Kombat movie? Let us know in the comments below. 

Featured image via HBO Max. 

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Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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