Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Director: Simon McQuoid

Stars: Jessica McNamee, Lewis Tan, Josh Lawson

For better or worse (worse), the Marvelisation of every franchise property available continues apace. Having seen Kevin Fiege’s world-conquering stratagem at work for the past decade-and-a-half, its no surprise that everyone else wants a piece of the action. The latest is this casually watchable remix of the Mortal Kombat video games courtesy of Warner Bros and New Line.

It’s been a quarter-century-and-change since Paul WS Anderson’s hyper-dumb, ultra-vulgar first offering. That film – crude and messy though it was – at least gallops toward you with saddlebags of character. By comparison, Simon McQuoid’s 2021 iteration has had any edges conspicuously smoothed. This Mortal Kombat comes with lashings of digital blood, for sure, and its script has been through the Deadpool meat grinder and come out the other-end riddled with posturing expletives, but it all feels factory-ordered. Focus grouped and target-marketed. What we have here, essentially, is a slightly ruder, less-PC Guardians of the Galaxy.

The opening sequence in the woods of rural China offers us a fantasy world that looks to have sprung from a CS Lewis dream. It’s all rather beautifully heightened, and incredibly handsome. My word, you might think, is this going to be good? We see a humble family tableaux, and have the welcome presence of Hiroyuki Sanada (Ring, LOST) as patriarch and martial arts master Hanzo Hasashi. But the arrival of ice-cold interstellar cipher Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) puts an end to that, and sets up a predictable vengeance arc for the film to work on from there.

Subsequently, Mortal Kombat rarely drifts from a serviceable modern formula. Floundering MMA orphan Cole Young (Lewis Tan) comes to learn of an intergalactic tournament that could have dire ramifications for all mankind, probably. Said tournament also seems pre-destined to pit him against Bi-Han – aka Sub-Zero – in a personal crusade for payback. He comes by much of this information thanks to reams of exposition dolled out by Jessica McNamee who appears here as Cammy from Street Fighter Sonya Blade. The ragtag ‘heroes’ team is further fleshed out by sarcastic Ozzie hooligan Kano (Josh Lawson), whose happily-offensive comic relief shtick plays like a prank salt seller spilling its entire contents all over your dinner. A little seasoning might’ve been fine but, thanks to him, the meal is all-but-ruined.

With so many characters to establish on both sides of the good/bad divide (along with a little flip-flopping), a lot of Mortal Kombat consists of sitting/standing and talking in a variety of temples and on other-worldly precipices. When it comes to the beat’em-up battles, McQuoid stages workmanlike MCU-esque standoffs. Fine enough, but reliant on floaty CG and uninspired editing rather than anything, y’know, compelling or memorable. And the film is exhaustingly back-heavy with these.

So the short write-up is a generally underwhelming report… depending on what you’re looking for.

While all of the above seems fair, McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat also kinda works if its ask-nothing Sunday afternoon dumbness that you’re actively looking for. If that’s the case, then this is a brightly coloured, occasionally fast-paced mix of doolally fantasy and gory action that’ll mostly keep you off your phone while you wait for the Deliveroo guy to show up. Should you live somewhere with the option to experience the movie in the cinema, its an almost guaranteed popcorn guzzler. Enter into it with low expectations and you’ll wince and chuckle and have a modestly good time, one that can be comfortably forgotten immediately after.

The hope of course will be that this muddled mix of violence and macho soap opera will spawn its own vast cinematic universe, and you can’t blame the sense of ambition in such a hope. But that same sense of ambition doesn’t manifest in the product itself. And this movie is very much a product.

“We are in the void,” advises sooth-saying sensei Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) at one point. No kidding.

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