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Mortal Kombat Should Have Stayed in the ’90s

Mortal Kombat 2021 Movie Review
Image: Warner Brothers

Mortal Kombat 2021 Review

There’s something about the new Mortal Kombat movie, which debuts Friday in both theaters and on HBO Max, that just feels minor and low-rent. It’s a reboot of a video game adaptation, that of a video game series whose heyday was about two decades ago. 

Meanwhile, it’s a feature directorial debut, mostly featuring a cast of nondescript unknowns, acting out a mumbo-jumbo-filled plot with pedestrian fighting and silly CGI. It’s not great, in other words. 

I admit I’m not exactly in the target audience for this movie. I’ve never played the Mortal Kombat video games. I saw the original, Paul W.S. Anderson-directed Mortal Kombat one time in 1995, and while I remember which theater and with which friend I saw it with, I don’t remember a single thing about the plot, beyond the music and that guy yelling “Mortal Kombat!” 

Mortal Kombat 2021
Image: Warner Brothers

All I remember about the 1997 sequel is that whole “mother you’re alive/too bad YOU will DIE” thing, which is more memorable as a meme than anything having to do with a film that no one much liked. I realize I might have been more engaged with this movie if I were deeply familiar with the lore, but since I’m not I didn’t care about anything that was going on onscreen for a minute- and none of the acting or filmmaking was enough to pull me back in.

Filmed pre-pandemic in Australia, Mortal Kombat is the directorial debut of Simon McQuoid, looking to breathe 21st-century life into a very distinctly 1990s property. But this film doesn’t have much to offer to anyone who hasn’t been steeped in Mortal Kombat arcana since the early days of the Clinton Administration. 

The plot is a bunch of nonsense about prophecies and the legacy of a massacre in Japan in the 1600s. Once the story reaches the present day, the protagonist is Cole (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter whose distinct birthmark is a tipoff that he’s deeply connected to the events of the past. He’s a character not from the games, I gather, though he never does anything particularly interesting. 

Mortal Kombat 2021
Image: Warner Brothers

He eventually teams up with a team of allies, which includes Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), most of whom resemble well-established stock characters from the action and martial arts canons. They’re all mixed into the centuries-long, inter-dimensional battle between “Outworld” and “Earthrealm.” 

There’s the occasional fight, sprinkled with CGI, but what we don’t get is the Mortal Kombat tournament itself, which is presumably on the way in the inevitable sequel. This is set up by an ending that’s the definition of a goofy stretch. 

Is it time, in 2021, for another cycle of Mortal Kombat films? It’s hard to imagine why it would be, but perhaps ’90s nostalgia will be the thing that finally gets people back to the movies. 

  • Stephen Silver

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. None Yabusiness

    April 26, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    You never played the games. You’re admittedly not the demographic for the movie…why are You reviewing it then? I’m not a romance movie guy, I wouldn’t do one for The Notebook. Why not hire a maid to do a mechanics job? Oh, that’s right, because it’s their demographic and that’s what they do. – Your opinion on the new Mortal Kombat movie holds no water! Go watch some romance comedies and report on those. Sincerely, Everyone.

    • TheCritic89

      April 26, 2021 at 11:03 pm

      What the other guy said.

  2. Paul Johannes Smith

    April 27, 2021 at 2:58 am

    You make no sense… Maybe quit journalism for a while and focus on your reviewing skills.

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