Video game movies have been plagued for decades. Occasionally a video game film will release and offer a satisfying experience for fans of the game, but it’s a rare occurrence. The 1995 Mortal Kombat film was one of the few movies that rose above the plague. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it offered an experience that pleased fans of the game series and general audiences alike. Since that time there have been a variety of TV series, films and web series, all attempting to capture the magic of the games with mixed results. Now a new and highly anticipated film is about to release, but it falls drastic short. Let’s take an in-depth look in our Mortal Kombat movie review.
Simon McQuoid was tasked with directorial duties on Mortal Kombat. As his first full-length feature film, the cards were already stacked against him. However, with an R-rating, a flashy red-band trailer, and some hopeful interviews, fans were eagerly anticipating what McQuoid would bring to the table. Unfortunately, he either didn’t care for the source material, or simply wasn’t familiar enough with it, because aside from a few nods, quite a bit has changed from the games to the new film.
The Mortal Kombat game series is one of the few fighting games that actually features a fully developed story. In fact, the story modes in the last three MK games have been exceptional. Instead of using the story from the games and simply adapting it for film, the writers decided to take significant liberties that effectively remove a vast majority of the story, in favor of a lackluster tale that focuses on newcomer Cole Young (Lewis Tan). While there is a connection between Young and the MK mythos, it’s a completely new connection created just for the film.
You can’t expect film adaptations to offer a perfect experience for fans of the source material. However, in the case of Mortal Kombat, there are nearly 100 characters across over a dozen games (counting side games). There’s simply no need to create a new character, especially when Young’s role doesn’t offer anything unique. Almost any existing MK character could easily fill the shoes of Cole Young with little to no impact on the story in the film. In fact, using a character such as Takeda Takahashi (from Mortal Kombat X) would fit well into what the writers were trying to accomplish with Young.
New character aside, the story in the film is only loosely based on the games. There’s a big focus on tattoos in the shape of the MK dragon logo. If you have a tattoo you’ve been chosen… except that you can also kill someone with a tattoo and it will migrate to you. Guess you’re not really chosen, are you? The tattoos also allow access to magical powers, but only once you’ve learned how to use them… unless it’s convenient for the story to have someone instantly learn their abilities. It’s one thing to set new rules unrelated to the game, but at least follow the rules you set.
There’s no singular game the story from. It would’ve been fairly easy for the film to follow the events of Mortal Kombat (2011), which essentially combines the first three MK games into one flowing story. Instead, the film starts off very similar to the first Mortal Kombat game, but it takes characters from MK2, MK3, MK4 and Deadly Alliance, quickly dropping any semblance of the MK1 storyline. The origins for most of the characters have been changed, making many of them feel like only a shell of what they are in the games. Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) is the biggest culprit here, going from the champion of the first MK game, to a weak side character in the film.
One of the reasons why Marvel films are so highly regarded is because of the attention to detail. Most of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t carbon copies of the comics. Instead, Marvel Studios takes the best parts of the comics and makes sure that the emotions and general feel of those moments are presented well in the films and TV shows. The attention to detail and nods to the fans go a long way, even when you move away from the source material.
Simon McQuoid and his creative team blatantly ignored almost everything that makes Mortal Kombat good from a story standpoint, and instead threw in an R rating and some fatalities in hopes that would be enough to appease fans. For some fans it will be enough, but for most fans, especially those with a deep connection to the games, the changes are just too extreme. It’s almost as if the creative team played one or two MK games back in the 90s, then decided to make a movie 20 years later without even looking into the games again. There’s very little attention to detail, and very little effort taken to appeal to fans of the source material beyond a few fatalities and oddly placed one-liners. To put it simply, this film has no heart (sorry Kano!).
If you remove the connection to the games, Mortal Kombat becomes just an average martial arts film. None of the fights are as good as anything seen in the various Ip Man or Ong Bak films. While some fatalities look great, others lack the attention to detail, come in at odd times, or just showcase missed opportunities. For instance, one fight takes place on what looks to be The Pit stage from the first game, but instead of knocking the fallen opponent off the stage, they perform a normal fatality, wasting the opportunity. If there’s a sequel to Mortal Kombat, a new creative team needs to be brought in that hopefully understands the games a bit better.
About Mortal Kombat
Synopsis: MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Director: Simon McQuoid
Writers: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham, Oren Uziel
Stars: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson
Runtime: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.