‘Mortal Kombat’ Continues the Unsurprising Trend of Bad Video Game Movies

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Ludi Lin as Liu Kang and Max Huang as Kung Lao in “Mortal Kombat” (2021). (Photo by Mark Rogers | Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

Hollywood bigwigs are not shy about producing live action films based on popular video game franchises as a money grab. Since 1993, there have been forty live action video game films, each rather unsuccessfully trying to capture the minds of both gamers and film lovers alike. For whatever reason, these movies have never been good. Not once has there been a video game movie that has been widely received as a critical success.

Out of the forty live action video game movies, the highest rated film is “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” (2019) with a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 53/100 on Metacritic. “Detective Pikachu” is one of just three video game films to reach a score of over 50 on Metacritic, and that is pretty rough, to say the least. One is “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (50/100) and the other, with a whopping score of 58/100, is none other than “Mortal Kombat.” And I’m not talking about the recent 2021 release, but the 1995 adaptation. 26 years later, can this new “Mortal Kombat” film step into the ring and break the curse of bad video game movies? Nope, it can’t. “Mortal Kombat” (2021) is a cringe-worthy mess of a film that was strangely a lot of fun to watch.

The Style of the Game

The “Mortal Kombat” games are best known for their hyper-violent nature and iconic characters. Fighters in the game quite graphically rip out each other’s spines and beating hearts for a chance to be deemed the victor. This ridiculous, over-the-top violence has set “Mortal Kombat” apart from games in the fighting genre that may be more realistic-looking, creating an extremely loyal and passionate fan base.

This style of violence is something that the “Mortal Kombat” movies have carefully avoided in the past. However, in the 2021 film adaption, they do not hold back. Fans of the video games can rest easy knowing they can watch the fighter Kung Lao saw somebody in half on the big screen. Though this violence may be enjoyable for the gamers, it alienates audience members who are less familiar and creates a rather graphic viewing experience.

Believe it or not, however, the violence and fighting are actually the better parts of the film. Where “Mortal Kombat” really struggles is in its attempts to develop character and story. Instead of diving into the already existing rich character history to choose a protagonist, “Mortal Kombat” opts to create a character who does not exist in the game.

The Composition of the Film

The film centers on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a washed-up MMA fighter who, frankly, is the worst. Instead of being portrayed as a deep and flawed protagonist, Cole is a surface-level character who only exists to follow a formulaic hero’s journey. This journey itself is not at all compelling because the film gives us very little information about who Cole is. The choice to focus on Cole, instead of the slew of other characters who fans know and love, detracts from the film and creates an extremely boring and clichéd narrative.

Paired with this narrative are a disappointing script and lackluster performances from the actors. Each line feels rushed and emotionless. Outside of the fighting, the characters’ movements and interactions are stale and forgettable. The only saving grace of “Mortal Kombat” is that it walks the line of being a movie that is so bad it’s good.

If you’re not already in love with the “Mortal Kombat” universe and you’re not a fan of watching terrible movies, I’d skip “Mortal Kombat.” On the other hand, if you want to watch a bad movie and laugh at cheesy dialogue and gory violence, “Mortal Kombat” might be just what the doctor ordered.

You can watch “Mortal Kombat” in theatres now or stream it on HBO Max.

 

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