This was always going to be a weird one to see. Video game movies are known for being kind of terrible, but they’re slowly getting better. The last few years have seen Rampage, Tomb Raider, and Detective Pikachu kind of break the curse. A curse which it can be argued, also hit the original Mortal Kombat movies. Movies which are liked despite their cheesiness, but they do have great music.
It’s really hard to do a Mortal Kombat movie as there are SO many characters in it. The first game alone has seven characters, all with unique backstories, plus a story for the tournament itself. And that’s just the first game, if you base it solely on that you’re missing some of the fans favourite characters such as Jax, Baraka and Shao Kahn. That is based solely on playable characters by the way, if you included the bosses you’d have three more, all are highly rated by the fan base. So is it actually possible to do this as a film? Would it work better as a series? Doesn’t matter, as it’s a film we’ve got, and it’s a film that obviously isn’t too bothered about sticking to the lore, for better or worse.
For better as it means they can actually tell a cohesive story, for worse as some of the choices they make are just weird. Champions are identified by a dragon birth mark. Well, I say birth mark, but you can also get it if you kill someone who has it (kind of like conkers). How “Military veteran kills someone in Vietnam and then five days later gets a birthmark in shape of a dragon” ISN’T a well-known urban legend in this universe is beyond me. The main character in this film was someone who was born with it, and had no idea what it meant. Considering they have the fate of their realm at stake, you’d think they would have been given some training to help them. Would it have not made sense for one of his best friends to have been turned out to be looking after him and guiding him in the correct path his whole life? Also, Johnny Cage is a champion, and a famous actor, and seemingly nobody has noticed the dragon-shaped birthmark he has (it doesn’t say nobody has noticed, but nobody mentions “oh, you have a birthmark just like that actor”). If The Rock or Vin Diesel had one of those, you can bet we’d know. The birthmark thing didn’t even add anything to the story, so why did it happen? Why bother writing it in? Just seems like poor storytelling.
Other poor things about this film: the main character. Why are they making Cole Young the main character? His special skill is he gets strong armour when he’s being attacked in a narratively important way. Yup, he has literal plot armour. If there’s one thing Mortal Kombat is not short of, it’s characters. I know they’re saving Johnny Cage for the sequel, which I think is a risky move that doesn’t really play off (unless they get this guy). Really, it should have been Liu Kang as the main character. It would mean going against traditional MK lore, but you’re doing that anyway. Almost everything else you can keep the same. They’re both of Asian descent, both established as fighters, and (this is where you’ll have to change the mythology) in the film the main character is descended from Scorpion, and Liu Kang is known for having fireball attacks, so it would be a really easy link to make between the two. In fact, it’s such an obvious link that I had to double check that it hadn’t already been made in the games. They do have Cole descended from Scorpion, but have none of his powers, which is strange. Leads me to my next point actually, the ending shows the spirit of Scorpion giving advice to Cole, in Japanese. There’s no indication that Cole speaks Japanese, especially not Japanese from the 17th Century. Would have loved if after Scorpion disappeared, Cole just stood there like “I did not understand a word of that”.
So that’s the bad, there’s also some stuff that’s just kind of weird from a technical standpoint. There’s a moment where Kano goes to bite Sonya and there’s a lions roar accompanying it. There’s no attempt to disguise it either and it’s just really strange, especially since Kano is essentially human, and humans don’t make that noise while they’re eating. If it was something from another realm. you could have JUST about made an excuse for it. The visuals are a bit strange too. Why would you have a badly CGI- reptile when the game has precedent for him wearing green-ninja style clothes?
Now onto the good. Sub Zero is a great character in this, and I would watch a whole movie about him assassinating people. Plus, the idea of using snow as a portent of doom is genius. Using beauty to display something dark is something I will always be a fan of. It’s why I love horror movies set in daylight. Also, there’s nothing inherently awful about this film. It just makes a lot of mistakes which could be easy to fix. I should note: the negative parts of this film do not reflect badly on the film-makers themselves. Cole was a studio decision, they insisted on it. Not entirely sure why they would, can’t really see the benefits. And considering that character is the main source of derision by viewers, the person who made that decision should not be in that job anymore. Bit harsh, but when you make a misjudgement THAT badly, you should not be paid millions for your decision-making.
Oh, one last thing. The time it took you to read this is probably longer than the total screen-time for Scorpion. Probably hiding him for the sequel (wooo, sequel baiting is always a good sign). Also, very strange I’m reviewing this just after Godzilla Vs. Kong considering the posters are REALLY similar in terms of colour schemes and how they use space.