Yes, No, Maybe So: Mortal Kombat

Note: This article first appeared on The Film Experience

Since 1993, production studios have tried again and again to adapt a video game for movie audiences and again and again they have failed.  Some of these films have been dumb fun (Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider), some have been seriously-minded disasters (Assassin’s Creed), while others have been financially viable misfires (Warcraft) or just outright catastrophes (Super Mario Bros.).

Paul W.S. Anderson tried his hand at it with 1995’s Mortal Kombat to the tune of $122 million worldwide.  Warner Bros, producer James Wan and director Simon McQuoid will try again with the aptly titled Mortal Kombat (2021 version).  The new red-band trailer just dropped, so let’s do a round of Yes, No, Maybe So..

YES

  • Video games have not exactly had a stellar reputation for representation, but Mortal Kombat features a large cast of characters of various ethnicities and genders.  
  • The cast is an interesting mix of unknowns and rising actors with the notable exception of enduring Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, Westworld, Twilight Samurai) as Scorpion.
  • Visually, everything looks strong.  Australian DP Germain McMicking is behind the lens. He previously shot the gay drama Holding the Man, season two of Top of the Lake, and season three of  True Detective.
  • You have to admit, slicing someone’s arm and freezing the blood just to stab them again is pretty cool

NO

  • Plenty of these video game movies have WAY too much plot and it looks like this is no exception.  There is some mumbo jumbo about birthmarks and Earthrealms and outerworlds.  How much do we have to endure to get to the fighting?
  • Video games have yet to translate to positive critical reception on film and there’s no reason to believe this will change here. But just hoping it’s entertaining. 
  • If you’ve ever played a Mortal Kombat game, you will know that there is no shortage of gore.  The 1995 film lightened it all up and got a PG-13 rating.  This version is going all out with blood and viscera. If you’ve played the newer versions of the game, you’ll know the violence can get gross

MAYBE SO

  • Lewis Tan (Wu Assassins, Into the Badlands) is playing someone named “Cole Young” but that character has no history in the MK games.  Could it be one of those hidden characters for no good reason?
  • I love it when titles are shoehorned into the movie, no matter how clunky it comes across
  • Fight scenes are always a worry.  Will they be choppy and heavily edited? Or have John Wick and The Raid influenced action filmmakers enough to put that to bed?
  • Mileena has always grossed me out as a character and they included her licking the blood off a sai.  Everything that character does unsettles me.
  • Fan service is there in its full glory.  But, they also lean into the campiness of the whole thing.  It’s a fine line to walk; How much is too much?
  • “Finish him” “Get over here!” “Kano wins”

I’m firmly in the ‘Maybe So’ camp. How about you?   They’ve been trying to remake Mortal Kombat since 1995.  What got this attempt to the finish line?  We can all find out together on April 16th in theaters and on HBO Max.

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