Sunday, April 25, 2021

Movie Review: Mortal Kombat

The 2021 Mortal Kombat movie is the movie they should have made in 1995. Swear to God, this movie would have seemed awesome twenty-six years ago. I know we all have fond memories of the campy, cheesy, stupid, bloodless flick that dropped back then, but nostalgia's doing that movie a lot of favors. What the 90's needed was a campy, cheesy, stupid flick with blood, and now... here it is, a few decades late.

Is it too late? Maybe. Probably. Depends how generous you're feeling.

This is... it's fine. Not good, mind you, but fine. The movie does a solid job adapting the core of the game and a passable job assembling that into a format resembling an actual movie. Mostly passable. Sort of passable. It comes a lot closer than most video game adaptations, anyway. But structurally, this is still more like a fighting game than a movie. Was that intentional? Probably. Was it advisable? Probably not.

I'm tempted to say this is likely the best version of this premise we could have hoped for on the big screen, but the truth is a version of this with interesting character dynamics wouldn't have been all that difficult. I'm not saying we needed awards-caliber writing, but the reason, say, Infinity War works without much of a story is that the banter is fun and the relationships are engaging. Here, it's mostly just filler and exposition between fights. Only a few characters have relationships to each other, and those are clich├ęs. When the most compelling character is the video game equivalent of Captain Boomerang, you've got a problem.

That's the larger issue, at least as far as this thing's entertainment value is concerned. There are some pretty big structural and pacing issues, but to be frank, I think issues like those come off as more academic than fatal flaws in movies like these. They're the kinds of things that don't bother you too much unless you stop and think about them, but whether it was wise or not...

...I stopped and thought about them. So, uh, spoilers.

The weirdest - I don't think "flaw" is even the right word - choice, maybe? The weirdest choice the movie makes, in my opinion, is to not actually do the Mortal Kombat tournament. The tournament is supposed to happen, the lore from the games (or at least my limited understanding of that lore) is largely intact, the main characters spend the first few acts getting ready for said tournament, but instead they just kind of fight all the bad guys one-on-one outside of the tournament. Then no one really explains if the tournament is postponed, if the villains forfeit, if it's still going to happen in a couple days with new or resurrected bad guys, or what's going on.

And here's the thing: the one-on-one fights were shot in a way they could have been the tournament, they just weren't. Like, we weren't watching the tournament on a technicality. My running theory is they originally were part of the "official" tournament, then the movie got recut and streamlined into it's current form. Maybe they couldn't swing some reshoots because of COVID, and this was the workaround?

I also have my suspicions about the "big fight" at the end, mainly because it *wasn't* really a big fight, at all. The movie's climax is a fight between one ninja fighting two ninjas, and the two ninjas win, because [checks notes] there are two of them.

Meanwhile, the main character takes out Goro at the end of the second act. Given how much of the Goro fight is CG, I can't help but wonder if maybe the order of those fights got flipped at some point. Because, as it is, there really isn't a "boss fight" at the end of the movie, which feels wrong for a fighting game adaptation.

Again, none of this is necessarily a major problem; just... weird. The movie feels like it doesn't quite click together, but... does it have to? The fights are pretty good, and that's the selling point of this thing, anyway. I wish they'd held back more from the trailers, but the "good parts" are indeed pretty good. Does a Mortal Kombat movie need to be a coherent, well-made film, or is "people fighting" enough? I'll leave that to philosophers to decide.

Let's talk gore. Yes, there's blood and occasionally guts and brains and stuff, but honestly... I thought there'd be a lot more. This isn't a complaint - I'm squeamish, so I didn't miss it - but it's notable the fatalities in the movie are significantly less gruesome than some I've seen in the more recent games. Again, not a complaint: I was just a little surprised.

Along with Detective Pikachu, this is easily one of the best video game movies I've ever seen, but if that's not damning with faint praise, I don't know what is. I can't imagine spending additional money to see this on a big screen, but if you're already paying for HBO Max... hey, it's right there. That's certainly how I watched it. Not sure this qualifies as a recommendation, but I suppose you need to ask yourself how bored you are.

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