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Take it from me: you don’t need to be a video game fan, or even a Mortal Kombat fan, to enjoy this movie. You won’t be watching for a complex storyline or particularly fleshed-out characters, though; while Mortal Kombat seems to redeem itself with its diverse casting, the actual meat of the film unfortunately falls a bit flat. For die-hard fans of the games and/or movies, disappointment may come in the form of a main character completely original to the new film or the cheesy video game one-liners. Alternatively, as a casual fan, you may take complete and utter joy in the delightful crudeness of the characters’ iconic lines, the elaborate stages reminiscent of the epic game stages, and of course the overly theatrical and entirely unnecessary amount of blood and gore.
This year’s film features an entirely new character as its main, Cole Young (Lewis Tan), whose heritage is to blame for why he finds himself hunted by legendary villain Sub-Zero. He finds and trains at Lord Raiden’s temple with Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Jax, and Kano to ultimately defend the universe from enemies from Outworld. It’s really not much more complex than that, but the numerous fight scenes we get to witness are fun and well-choreographed.
My first ever introduction to Mortal Kombat was shortly after I started dating my husband, when I got to witness several nights of passionate gaming, my favorite of which was always the martial arts fantasy game. I was appalled by the crudeness, enthralled by the creativity, and absolutely horrified by the gore. Until this year’s re-imagining of the martial arts video game film, I’d never watched one of the films, and after hearing more about its white-washed past, I can be certain I never will.
However, 2021’s release of Mortal Kombat aims to correct at least some of their past misgivings, as they cast a multinational group of actors for the film; already far superior to past films which- despite the source material dictating differently- apparently cast an array of white actors portraying non-white characters.
Director Simon McQuoid was insistent the new cast was authentic to the source material and those cultures, and took extra care during filming to ensure as much, which was appreciated by actors on set. Ludi Lin, who plays Liu Kang, was impressed by McQuoid’s determination, and went on to discuss what it means to him to be part of a cast where he’s not the only Asian actor:
“One thing I really wanted to dispel in my career, what gives my work meaning, is a lot of tokenism that’s seen in minorities and ethnicities in Hollywood films… Look – 60% of the world is Asian. A quarter of the world is Chinese. And the thing about Mortal Kombat that grips me, I was thinking, ‘Why has the game gone through 11 different iterations?’ It’s the characters. It’s such a diverse mesh of characters, and they’re all so interesting. And on this film, there are so many different types of people, different ethnicities from different origins and different backgrounds, and it really represents the world. If you want a film right now to carry throughout the world, which is all films right now. No film is local anymore, all films are going to be seen by people all over the world, you want to represent the world in the right way. And in the world, there’s not token Asians… The casting for this film feels really authentic, and that’s much credit to Simon for sure. He’s very serious about it. We don’t have to discuss it. Everyone feels it… And it feels right. It feels so comfortable to be meshed within a cast, coworkers and friends from different places. And we have no conflict, no struggle, we’re just trying to tell a great story.”
Joe Taslim (Sub-Zero) feels similarly, noting that he and Iko Uwais, a costar from The Night Comes For Us, are two of a small number of actors from Indonesia who have made it to Hollywood.
“For us…we’re very fortunate…every time we do an international project, we always think that it’s not just for us, this will be representing 250 million people. There’s a big population there. If we can do it, we hope that the young generation there, they have the confidence that they can do it to. Like what inspired me.”
In addition to the cast being delightfully diverse this time around, the film was just loosely-plotted and action-packed enough to keep a casual fan like myself entertained. While I do agree that the writing of Cole left much to be desired for an original character thrust into a preconceived universe, none of the characters seemed particularly fleshed out in terms of personality; however, I think that’s to be expected when you’re watching a film literally inspired by a video game. My husband’s biggest gripe over the film, aside from creating a new main character we weren’t given nearly enough time or information to care about, was how easily one of the most powerful characters from the games was defeated by Cole, immediately after Cole finally awakens his arcana.
It isn’t until the end, of course, that Cole is able to release the vengeful spirit Scorpion from the blood of his descendant Hanzo, and the audience gets to witness the legendary fight between Scorpion and Sub-Zero. For me, this was easily the most exciting and interesting part of the film, one I knew to expect from the beginning, and it didn’t disappoint, immediately jumping off with Scorpion’s iconic line “GET OVER HERE!” as he throws his kunai at Sub-Zero.
This year’s Mortal Kombat gets an Incluvie score of 5/5, for featuring a cluvie as its main character, and for finally portraying the diverse cast of characters accurately, for what appears to be the first time in its franchise. I’ve given the film a 3/5 general movie score. While it’s no masterpiece, I believe Mortal Kombat does achieve what it sets out to do, which is to entertain its audience above all. There’s a fair amount of fan service in the signature character moves and sayings and sets constructed to mimic the video game, the visuals are dazzling and exciting, and the fights are mesmerizing. If you’re looking for an intelligently layered plot with a meaningful conclusion, this might not be the movie for you, but if you’re looking for an easy, fun watch, look no further!
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