Prospects of a new Mortal Kombat film had been bouncing around Hollywood for some time, but to no avail. Despite the name being a hot commodity, video game movies have a toxicity about them in the industry. Comic book movies used to be the same way. No one wanted to touch them. Mainly because most filmmakers and producers didn’t know how to approach them. They just thought they were silly kids books and that’s how they made them to be. In the case of video game movies, the running theme was to cram in whatever references from the game into the movie then work the story around it. Obviously this doesn’t work.

Eventually, more competent filmmakers started making better video game movies and the rate of good to bad began to shift. But even today, there are more bad than good and for that we can thank Uwe Boll. So, does the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat tip the scales in favor of good or keep the bad weighted down? In my opinion, it’s better than most but not one of the best.

I had high hopes for this one. While this was the first big project for director Simon McQuoid, the fact that James Wan was attached to produce gave the film a bit of pedigree. However, considering how disjointed the film feels, I’m not sure how much he contributed to the final product. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit.

My problem with this movie is a lack of a cohesive story. It starts off strong giving us the origins of Hanzo Hasashi and Bi-Han but then it slowly begins to fall apart as new elements are introduced. Sonya and Jax following leads based on clues they’ve found is a great idea. The kind of idea that would have been great to follow more than an entirely new character, especially considering the reason for that was to do it for the audience. That excuse worked for Monster Hunter. It doesn’t work here. There are too many characters in the lore of Mortal Kombat to not utilize them in some capacity to be the gateway for the audience. I don’t dislike the actor, nor did I dislike his performance. But his character becomes a problem for the narrative.

I liked that Liu Kang and Kung Lao were already training with Raiden, mainly because their fates are usually tied to the outcome of the tournament. However, we didn’t really have a tournament. Like a third of this movie was the training montage in a Rocky film. And I get that they need to train to unlock their arcana which is a clever way to involve their powers. But this is made uninteresting due to the way it’s handled. Kano has an eye power. Why? Jax’s metal arms become bigger. Why? Sonya gets rings. Why? It seems trivial to nitpick the power sets, but the writers never gave me a reason not to ask.

I liked that Shang Tsung was actively working to sabotage Earthrealm before the tournament. It makes sense that he would be doing this, making winning the tournament more difficult. And perhaps that’s a thread they should have pushed on more. Bring in more fighters, Shang Tsung and his goons wipe out quite a few, and leave the fate of Earthrealm to a handful of fighters that must now survive Mortal Kombat. And those survivors could be the ones he underestimated. I could see Johnny Cage fit that bit easily. Plus, since the tournament isn’t active, perhaps the “cheating” he was doing couldn’t necessarily be labeled that way. Mortal Kombat wasn’t happening so what rules was Shang actually breaking? They brought up these rules but like many other things, never followed up or through.

All of the actors played their characters well. The biggest standout was Josh Lawson as Kano. He stole the show and his smartass take would have clashed with a smartass Johnny Cage, so maybe write them differently? I don’t know. Just a thought. But again, he was a highlight. His fight with Reptile (was that Reptile? Had to be Reptile) was cool. Complete with Kano’s OG fatality. Max Huang was awesome as Kung Lao and I’m angry he died. He embodied that character straight out of the games and had the coolest fatality in the movie, bar none.

Hiroyuki Sanada was perfectly cast as Hanzo Hasashi but felt wasted in this movie. He really only had a chance to shine in the opening sequence, then the character of Scorpion was relegated to a glorified cameo at the end. I still don’t know why he had to have a descendant. Why was his bloodline so important? Little details could have made this story make sense.

For example, Hanzo Hansashi was destined to defeat Outworld forces in Mortal Kombat, so Shang Tsung hired Bi-Han to take him out. Sure, there was already a rivalry, but now why not make it interesting. Bi-Han is imbued with powers granted by Shang Tsung, explaining that detail. Bi-Han kills all of the Shirai Ryu thinking he’s severed the bloodline. Shang thinks he’s won and Earthrealm is a shoo-in. Enter Cole whatever years later and boom, prophecy is still on the table. But even still, I don’t like Cole.

Cole is the personification of studio executives sticking their opinions in movies they don’t understand. And anytime you hear that studios left the production alone and allowed the creatives to do their thing, it’s typically a damn good movie. And look I’m not saying it’s shit. Annihilation still holds that title. It’s problematic for many reasons films like this have fallen apart in the past. They are too concerned about building a world and planning for sequels that they forget to focus on the story at hand. Easter eggs are great and well placed ones can lead to something later. Great examples were Shinnok’s amulet in Raiden’s temple and Liu Kang referencing his former master Bo Rai Cho. These were little nuggets that rewarded fans while planting little seeds.

This film feels like pieces are missing and those missing pieces were replaced with pieces that look like they could fit but just don’t. One would hope that a sequel would help make this movie better but that’s part of the problem. A movie shouldn’t exist to make another one better. It needs to be able to stand on its own merits. Not a flawless victory for me despite some promising material.

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