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Mortal Kombat movie review: A flawed victory

New Line Cinemas and Warner Bros.' Mortal Kombat movie brings one of the most iconic video games back to the big screen.


Despite the stigma around video game film adaptations, the 1995 Mortal Kombat was a bit of an exception. Fans adored the over-the-top campiness, and it has remained a major name in the long history of video game movies. With that in mind, quite a bit was riding on the 2021 Mortal Kombat film, especially in an era where every studio is looking for its next major franchise or connected universe. While Mortal Kombat succeeds in delivering great action and setting the groundwork for potential future films, it struggles to accomplish much else.

The next generation of fighters

Directed by Simon McQuoid, Mortal Kombat follows the story of Cole Young, a brand new character created specifically for the movie. A seemingly nobody, Cole is pulled into a battle for the future of Earthrealm once discovered by others that share the same dragon mark as he does. While Lewis Tan delivers a solid performance in the role, Cole’s character spotlights one of the more glaring issues in Mortal Kombat - character development.

With an ensemble cast made up of so many beloved characters, Mortal Kombat is able to get away with not doing much to develop them. You don’t need to convince MK fans to care about Sonya Blade or Jax, because they already love them. However, protagonist Cole doesn’t have that luxury. Outside of seeing his wife and daughter, there’s no reason to really root for him or care what happens to him. It’s understandable that the Mortal Kombat movie devoted a lot of its screentime to its cool characters doing cool things, but one of the consequences is a generic leading man.

I felt as though Mortal Kombat did right by nearly all of its legacy characters. Kung Lao, Raiden, and Liu Kang are all excellent live-action adaptations of iconic MK characters. Sub-Zero is especially menacing in the movie. One character that really stuck out from the others in a negative way was Kano. Used for about 75 percent of all the movie’s humor, I found his comedic shtick pretty tired. The majority of Kano’s jokes were lazy pop culture references, name-dropping Gandalf, Harry Potter, and a plethora of other popular movie/television characters. It got a chuckle the first time, but not after that.

Getting it back in blood

A Mortal Kombat movie either lives or dies on its action and combat sequences. Luckily, the 2021 adaptation nails the majority of its fight scenes. The choreography is excellent, and just about all of the characters get their moment to shine in combat. Fans of the gaming franchise will be particularly pleased, as many of the signature moves from the series make an appearance on the big screen.

As with its predecessor, the Mortal Kombat movie is quite cheesy. It works some of the time, as the source material itself has always been quite zany and over-the-top. However, there are some instances where it falls completely flat. There’s a particular moment when one character kills another, to which they declare “flawless victory,” and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

There’s also an abundance of blood and gore, as it was clear the filmmakers were committed to staying true to the nature of Mortal Kombat. This again ties into the film’s campiness, as it’s a bit hilarious to see a guy get stabbed in the head and watch blood spew out like a science class volcano project.

The story of Earthrealm being in peril is pretty standard for a Mortal Kombat narrative, and more or less was a means to have a bunch of characters fight, which is completely fair. I was much more interested in the feud between Bi-Han (Sub-Zero) and Hanzo Hasashi (Scorpion).

Ultimate Kombat

Mortal Kombat does a great job of giving all of its characters a moment to shine. Fans of the franchise will find a lot of value in seeing their favorites go toe-to-toe, as the movie definitely prioritizes action and combat. The door is left open for a potential sequel, so here’s hoping we get better character development and a more compelling story.

This review is based on the theatrical and streaming release of Mortal Kombat (2021). Mortal Kombat is now showing in theaters and on HBO Max.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Scream nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

  • Great action choreography and fight sequences
  • Solid ensemble of legacy characters
  • Decent set pieces
  • Generic story
  • Underdeveloped characters
  • A lot of humor falls flat
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 23, 2021 1:00 PM

    Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Mortal Kombat movie review: A flawed victory

    • reply
      April 23, 2021 1:07 PM

      Something to get everyone who is excited to watch this in the proper mood:

    • reply
      April 23, 2021 4:00 PM

      I caught it last night. I think the movie really shines when it's not taking itself too seriously.

      A question for the Shack. I watched it in Australia and people were loving Kano. I thought he was the highlight as well but I kind of wondered if that's just because I'm Australian (well NZ but living in Melbourne). Did non Aussies like Kano?

      In some ways I thought the Kabal character was the American equivilent of Kano with the jokes etc but they fell really flat.

      Some great bits though. Kano keeps getting leg swept "That the only move you know!?" Lol.

    • reply
      April 23, 2021 5:20 PM

      I’m excited to watch a brainless good action movie. That’s all I hope it is.

    • reply
      April 24, 2021 6:26 AM

      Aw I didn't know it was Guy, T. New.

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