Thoughts on “Mortal Kombat(2021)”

I really love the 1995 “Mortal Kombat” film.  What I like most about it is how it doesn’t really take itself all that seriously, and so if you don’t try to take it seriously and just go with it it’s remarkably entertaining.  Recently while browsing I came across the 2021 “Mortal Kombat” movie, and decided to give it a try.  Hey, maybe they managed to keep the same tone as the first one and it would be entertaining as well!

Well, I’m sure that anyone who has already watched the movie will be laughing at the previous sentence, because the newer movie does indeed take itself really, really seriously.  Or, at least it does in the beginning, with serious issues and a lot of serious fights with a lot of gore and the like, which contrasted with the skilled but also a bit tongue-in-cheek fights of the original.  However, from a long and fairly brutal fight sequence that involves an entire family being slaughtered, it soon after tries to inject some humour, in the interactions between Kano and Sonya for example (with her offering him a million dollars or something to help them, him commenting that she doesn’t look like she has that money, her upping the offer, him accepting and then her saying later to her companion that she doesn’t have that kind of money and so isn’t going to be paying him that).  This … contrasts with the early scenes and with the overall tone of the movie and threat.

See, the 1995 version was indeed set during the tournament, while the 2021 version isn’t.  Instead, Shang Tsung is trying to cheat by killing off the warriors of Earth Realm before the tournament.  Also, it seems like instead of having the warriors be chosen for their abilities like in the first one, they get some kind of mark and if someone else kills them they inherit the mark, which is how Kano gets one (and why Sonya doesn’t have one).  This then puts Earth’s warriors under siege by Outworld’s forces, even as they try to learn to unleash their special abilities to participate in the tournament.  This, then, is a much more serious situation than in the 1995 version which also raises questions about the integrity of the tournament — or what it’s for — if it can be circumvented so easily.

To my mind, this movie would work better as a prequel to either another movie or the games than as an actual full-fledged Mortal Kombat movie.  That’s because it does a decent job of explaining where the fighters get their powers and how they all meet, and why they join the tournament.  Focusing more on the Sub-Zero/Scorpion subplot also works well as a prequel by showing what was an interesting yet secondary relationship but that in the games wasn’t the main focus.  Unfortunately, here this is again more of a full movie than a prequel, which means that it explains a lot of time explaining things that really only matter in the context of the games or the overall story of the tournament without having the benefit of having another movie that we’ve seen to reference.  Mortal Kombat fans might get the references, but will likely be annoyed that they don’t get to see the tournament and that a son of Scorpion is made the focus character.  Those who are unaware of the story will likely wonder why any of this is that important to make an entire movie out of it, and although they can follow the Scorpion/Sub-Zero arc the arcs of the others will seem extraneous to that arc, and so puzzling as well.

For me, I didn’t care for the humour, and the movie proved to me that adding copious swearing to things does not make them more humourous or more dramatic.  But it’s not as bad as it could have been, as the prequel parts and the Scorpion story works better than I’d expected.  Still, I don’t feel any real desire to watch it again.  The 1995 movie is still more entertaining, and there’s no greater drama to make the 2021 movie work as a more serious work.  I’m likely to sell this one if given a chance, but admit that this is a movie that’s on the line and that on another day I might decide to keep it to watch again, just in case.

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