Mortal Kombat undoubtedly revives in every rat child of the 90s. An unparalleled memory of violent fights of little dolls that take place in front of a TV screen while a rat child insults the other one because he has dominated him by pressing the same key. The bloody post-fight deaths, the nonsensical storyline and the outlandish fighters are brought back by its theatrical release and recently on HBO.
If any coherent plot can be given to Mortal Kombat, the movie’s vaguely matches the one the video game imaginary has created. Heroes who know martial arts must save Earth from being conquered by the malevolent Shao Kang, who rules a world in another dimension called the Outworld. Earth, at least during the first Mortal Kombat, must be saved by fighting in a sadistic tournament with the otherworldly combatants.
That’s where the similarities between the movie and the 1991 game end. From there, the plots begin to differ substantially and this is made evident by the sparse —but not absent— scenery reminiscent of the classic’s combat scenarios.
Although the action is brilliant, the plot simply failed to engage me, and I would have preferred the tournament from the first video game to be left in, rather than the twist that the movie gives to the whole story.
A plot as sophisticated as Mortal Kombat’s is best not taken too seriously. However, the fact that a 90’s arcade game has managed to create a more elaborate plot than a 2021 movie of almost two hours leaves a bad taste.
And the characters?
Let’s just say that the character construction doesn’t disappoint, but it’s not great either. The iconic Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonia and Sub-Zero are surprising for the feeling they evoke from the old video game, from the powers to the sordid fatalities where some rival is torn to pieces by a hat that spins like a chainsaw, or ends up incinerated by fire coming out of the mouth of a skull. Elements that cannot be missing in a Mortal Kombat movie.
Other characters like Scorpio, Kano, Jax, Raiden or the aforementioned Shang Tsung are fine, but they don’t have the chance to stand out much in the film either. Likewise, don’t expect much deep dialogue in the film. Kano —played by Josh Lawson— gets the attention in the scenes he appears in for his hilarious antics and awkwardness.
Characters like Johnny Cage or Goro completely disappoint. In fact, Johnny Cage (or the construction of his character) is notable by its almost complete absence. That is, Cage does exist, but he’s not the cocky movie actor with a cool green plasma kick we remember from the games.
Instead, HBO gives us a completely flat character, who only stands out as something of a chosen child cliché and whose powers are not at all reminiscent of Johnny Cage’s. It becomes apparent who Johnny is simply by the discarding of characters at some point in the film. As I watched the film I kept wondering why Johnny didn’t appear, however, it was frustrating when I realized who he was.
Maybe they preferred not to build the real character of Johnny Cage for fear of mass woke. Maybe they didn’t want to face the fact that Cage, because of his character, would end up saying some compliment to Sonia —a moment that a good director would have used for a fight in the best Mortal Kombat style— and risk some mob of offended feminists leading a Twitter campaign to “cancel” the movie. I say maybe, as these are just speculations about the absence of this character.
Epic scenes that fill the plot hole in Mortal Kombat
But fuck the character building! We came here for the fisticuffs, and the movie doesn’t disappoint. The dose of fights outweighs the dialogue scenes in the entire movie. Not even 30 minutes had passed and I had already seen four fights (among which there is a very well executed MMA choreography that deserves applause to the actors Lewis Tan and Ian Streetz) with several deaths and amputations.
From clean fist to magic, sablazos, hammer blows, bullet, freezing, incinerations and acid meltdowns, the outlandish fights manage to cause that feeling of morbidity and euphoria that all of us 90’s rat kids felt when decapitating the opponent by pressing all the buttons to the madness to do a classic Fatality.
A word of warning: although the plot of this movie is incredibly absurd, it is not suitable for children of woke parents, as the violence is still quite explicit, since, although it is not a movie that comes close to gore, there are still some excessively seditious deaths, just like the fatalities of the video game that could not be missing in the movie that bears its name.
There are several scenes that recall certain things that only a person who played the games will know. There are also several nice nods to the Super Nintendo trilogy created by Ed Boom and John Tobias. However, the film completely fails to capture the martial arts tournament atmosphere in which the first game takes place. Moreover, in the strictest sense of the word, the tournament never happens.
Could the filmmakers have done a better job? Undoubtedly. Several characters are completely wasted and the abuse of magic as an explanation for everything is tedious, even for Mortal Kombat levels -where the use of sci-fi technology also exists-. Still, it’s not a boring movie to pass the time.
All in all, Mortal Kombat is an entertaining film that does what it’s supposed to do: project a good dose of fisticuffs at the most inconceivable levels for cinema, and that any viewer can enjoy, of course, as long as they don’t try to make too much sense of the plot.