Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Mortal Kombat is a reboot of the late 90’s film series that included 1995’s Mortal Kombat and 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. The film series is based on a tournament fighting game of the same name. The reboot had been hovering around Warner Bros in development for almost two decades…now the battle has made its way to the big screen and HBO Max.

This latest film follows Cole (Lewis Tan) a fighter that learns what he thinks is a birthmark is actually an invitation to a deadly tournament known as Mortal Kombat. Earthrealm has lost the last nine tournaments. If they lose one more, the evil residents Outworld will invade Earth. With the help of Jax (Mechad Brooks), Cole teams up with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Kano (Josh Lawson) to find their way to the temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) for training.

As Cole and his group are Earthrealms remaining champions and must prepare to face off against Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his group of fighters lead by Bi Han aka Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) and Mileena (Sisi Stringer). The closer they get to the battle; Cole learns more about the prophecy and his true destiny.

Mortal Kombat isn’t a film that revolves around tournament fighting like Warrior or the Karate Kid. It’s not even in the same vein as the Rocky films that have numerous training montages that lead to the big fight. Mortal Kombat is a fantasy adventure film that’s packed with martial arts and has a little fighting tournament infused in it.

Like most adventure films the bulk of the story is Cole getting from one place to another and making some allies along the way. There’s some fun action mixed throughout that leads to the grand finale. It’s a formula that works and director Simon McQuoid executes it well. McQuoid doesn’t waste too much time with filler scenes or character development. The scene is either an exposition dump or an action scene.

Lewis Tan is really great as Cole. Most people know Tan from Iron Fist or Into the Badlands and he was impressive in both. It’s about time he was able to shine as a leading man. Hopefully this is the start of many more opportunities for Tan.

The best character is the foul mouthed Kano played by Josh Lawson. Kano’s introduction is equal parts hilarious and impressive. Not only is Kano angry, arrogant, and boastful as you’d expect, he’s the comic relief and does not disappoint.

Where Mortal Kombat succeeds is in its action. The fight sequences are very well done. Nothing breathtaking happens but a few of the stunts are really impressive. The R-rating allowed them to do a few interesting things with the fight scenes.  The best fight sequences are the training at Raiden’s temple and the showdown with Shang Tsung and his warriors – and that mostly involves Kung Lao (Max Huang) throwing his hat.

The film is fun and that’s why it works. Kano and his one-liners will make you smile. How serious Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) is will make you believe in the mission. How noble Cole is will make you invest in his journey. Sub-Zero being absolutely evil might be the most fun part of this film. The film doesn’t try to be anything but a fun. 

Mortal Kombat does its best to fix the failures of the previous franchise and, not so quietly, set up a sequel. If you signed up to watch a movie based on a 29 year old video game, you know what you’re in for. The fun and the fighting are impossible to ignore. There may be hope for this franchise after all.

Grade: B