So, the 2021 Mortal Kombat film is the best incarnation of the video adaptation: however, it’s still not in the category of good. Mortal Kombat falls in the realm of disappointing than bad as all the pieces of the puzzle were there for an excellent film, but it couldn’t quite hold together in the end. There was one moment throughout the entire feature that showcased the strong potential that this franchise had, and that was the opening sequence involving Sub-Zero and Scorpion. To give you background on this rivalry, both MK fighters have a rivalry as old as time. The Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei ruthlessly kills Scorpion and the members of the Shirai Ryu, including Hanzo Hasashi’s wife and son. The rich history between the two clans has been explored in both the games and animated films, but this was the first time that a live-action film fully capitalized on two of Mortal Kombat’s strongest characters. The reason that the opening sequence blows everything out of the water is that it’s such a simple scene that’s masterfully directed. Plus, it highlights the incredible layers that Ed Boon and his creative teams have made for his fighters. Obviously, the main attraction of the Mortal Kombat series is the brutal fighting and bloody fatalities, but what makes this series so popular is their unforgettable characters and the history behind them.
The opening scene exemplified just how great the Mortal Kombat series can be when it’s helmed by someone who understands the incredible lore of this series. The early moments nicely establish Hanzo and his family; it manages to showcase his likeability thanks to his love for his wife and son. That scene smoothly transitions over to the action and manages to represent what this series is truly about. The previous versions and the latter half of Mortal Kombat have made the mistake of focusing on the tournament aspects of the series. Yes, fans of Mortal Kombat want to see fighting, but highlighting the importance of the tournament has managed to diminish the characters to nothing more than name fighters, and it doesn’t allow them to tap into the rich potential that the franchise has to offer. These are living, breathing human beings with complex stories that define them as men and women. I know this sounds crazy given the fact that the series has focused on elegant ways to behead or violently mutilate other people, but the reason Mortal Kombat is such a popular video game expands beyond the joys of killing someone in a creative manner.
The sequence of Hanzo murdering the Lin Kuei assassins after finding his son and wife dead in a block of ice is what the live-action films should strive to be. A strong mix of nuanced and compelling storytelling with plenty of awesome action sequences. I know that 2021 MK isn’t about the tournament, but it often feels that the fighting comes first over the story. While there’s no denying that the action sequences are top notch especially when Sub-Zero is on screen, there’s plenty of questionable plot points and a rushed story featuring a bland protagonist. It’s hard to care about Cole because there’s nothing about him or his journey that’s entices viewers. The revelation that he’s Scorpion’s son doesn’t suddenly make him a better character. The opening sequences makes you want Scorpion to get his revenge and the film would’ve been wise to follow Scorpion’s journey in doing so. The acting simply can’t go unnoticed as Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada are charismatic and excellent talent who bring their characters to the life. Taslim is especially good, bringing an effective intimidation to Hanzo’s wife and son without going over the top or being hokey. He manages to say a lot throughout his mannerisms and expressions. It helps that both actors are experienced in marital arts and combat training, so they’re movements in their fight sequences are well choreographed and keep the energy of the film moving at a nice pace. Their confrontation is packed with so much tension and excitement because the scene has nicely built up to that moment that sets precedent for what’s to come. On paper, we should be rooting for Cole to get his retribution, but the film makes the mistake by going in a different direction in order to surprise audiences with the father reveal later in the movie. The opening minutes of Mortal Kombat showcases the film that it should’ve been, but sadly, it only demonstrates the disappointing reality of what could’ve been.