Rated R for being Mortal Kombat. Wait, the other Mortal Kombat movies are PG-13? Well, that was clearly a mistake because the most infamous element of Mortal Kombat is the over-the-top gore. I mean, it's just a perk that characters in this are allowed to swear in a movie that completely embraces the concept of the fatality. While I was expecting way more intensity, similar to the remake of The Evil Dead, it is pretty darned gory. R.
DIRECTOR: Simon McQuoid
Yeah, I thought I was going to sit this one out too. It didn't look like it was going to appeal to me. But then I thought of how I wasn't going to the movies anymore because of Covid-19 and embraced the "Well, it's free at least" attitude. And while I had a mostly okay time, I quickly came to realize...Mortal Kombat, as a narrative concept, is kind of dumb and it is bizarre that we have a mythology behind this video game.
Part of me was really tempted to binge all of the Mortal Kombat video games. There I was, reading the Wikipedia article on the Mortal Kombat stories, and I realized that should probably play these games. Then I realized that I have a stack of games that I want to play but can't due to time constraints. Then I realized that I don't like the Mortal Kombat games that much. So when a movie came out which heavily cites the insane Mortal Kombat narrative, I really became aware of how silly this storyline is. Now, I acknowledge I have no right to write that phrase out. Time and again, I have defended absolutely ridiculous storylines. A self-proclaimed geek who shouts it loud and proud, who am I to judge about what makes mythology silly? After all, I have a student who is deep into the Mortal Kombat narrative and I totally love it...if it wasn't for all the gore. There are probably healthier outlets. But something about Mortal Kombat seems sillier to me than most stories. And I suppose it is about the fact that the mythology seems way too complex for the format of the game.
I'm very skeptical about video game movies in general. I mean, I'm not exactly being revolutionary by saying this. It seems just part of the zeitgeist to say that video game movies suck. I'll go as far as to say that this new Mortal Kombat movie doesn't completely suck. But the format of the fighting game doesn't really lend itself to complex storytelling. If I'm playing Mortal Kombat, I see two fighters, one on each side of the screen. My entire purpose for playing is to see these two characters destroy each other in the most brutal way imaginable. It becomes beyond winning and losing. It becomes about seeing bone-breaking animations. But what I don't care about is the complex life of these characters. I love complex characterization. But stuff like Mortal Kombat begs for an audience to invest in the absolutely bananas story that these characters are going through.
And that's where Simon McQuoid deserves a little bit of credit. McQuoid is a director of commercials. A lot of these commercials are for video games. I get that he's excited to make a movie involving characters that he's passionate about. That passion comes through in the movie. For what it is worth, these characters are taken with the right degree of seriousness that a franchise like Mortal Kombat deserves. He seems to really like some of his characters. Sonja Blade (and I feel absurd writing this) actually has a character arc. It just feels like her attempt to uncover this mystical fighting tournament in a NetherRealm has no way to make seem relatable. Jax is at least sympathetic. He's there for altrustic reasons and he has his arms ripped off. (Yeah, there's only so much sympathy that someone can dole out to these kinds of characters.) But that's why we have Cole Young. From what I understand, the director had nothing to do with the screenplay. If I'm wrong, I apologize. But focusing on Cole Young creates this avatar for us.
I had a love / hate relationship for Cole. Cole, not being a character, is mostly unburdened from a dense mythology that I don't appreciate. He's outside the story and acts as an avatar for me. Yeah, we understand that he is somehow tied to Scorpion, a prize that I don't really care about in the long run. But he's this guy that could be one of two things. He could be this clean slate character for a casual audience (me) to relate to while having some deeper tie to the mythology (MK nerds). Or he could be a travesty to the purity of the mythology while being kind of blah for the apathetic. Unfortunately, I think he's more of the latter. I know. I'm being a huge punk with this. But Cole does absolutely nothing for me. I honestly wanted to look up to see if he was in any of the Mortal Kombat games or something to justify his presence in the story. It's not like Mortal Kombat is exactly missing the roster of charactrs that this could be about. I mean, I only got up through Mortal Kombat 3 (technically, I got to Mortal Kombat: Sub-Zero, but that's an abomination apparently in itself) and I knew there were a billion characters.
Cole just isn't compelling. I like the idea that characters in this murderverse have families and whatnot. But Cole's entire character arc is being kind of lame. He used to be a good fighter. We're not exactly sure what happened to him to make him a bad fighter. He can't exactly switch on this turn or whatever makes him a special fighter (that's a bizarre choice, by the way, explaining away the magic within the Mortal Kombat universe). It's only when he's nearly beaten to death by Goro that he gets his stuff. It's really weird. Goro is supposed to be the big bad. They bring him along because he'll get the job done. But when Cole gets his little magic trick, which seems way too overpowered to tell balanced story, he beats up Goro pretty quickly. Why not send anyone against him? From that point on, he has very little story to fall back on.
I'd also like to point out that, for as gory as the movie is and as dark as Mortal Kombat is supposed to be, I don't see why Cole's family survives Sub-Zero's freezing. (Yeah, I'm really nerding out on this movie.) The movie starts off with Hanzo Hisashi getting his family frozen to death by Sub-Zero. The movie is okay with killing kids, according to this. But Cole's family survives...because we really wanted them to? It seems oddly like a happy ending for the movie that really didn't need to happen.
But my biggest comment, and I would like to stress that this took me way too long to write because of a lack of motivation, is that this feels like a prequel to the actual movie. When Star Trek came out, J.J. Abrams and IDW made a prequel comic book series called Star Trek: Countdown, explaining how the normal Star Trek universe led to the leaving of Ambassador Spock. It's this fun, ultimately unnecessary, story that really prefaces the audience for the real story, for those people who want to have a fuller experience. Fun. But Mortal Kombat...never actually gets to the tournament. The one thing that is Mortal Kombat is the knowledge that these fighters are fighting in a tournament and they never got to the tournament? Listen, I don't care about the tournament. But there's this absolutely almost unearned confidence to assume that there will be a sequel based on this first movie. I know that a lot of films tease a sequel. But I've never seen a movie so dependent on a sequel. What if this movie bombed? Did it bomb? I have no idea. I mean, I enjoyed it more than the other entries, but they don't make filmmaking decisions based on whether or not I enjoyed the film.
Regardless, I find myself hating myself. Not because I watched Mortal Kombat, but because I feel so judgmental about a franchise that was never mine. I'm sure that lots of people view the franchises I'm obsessed with carrying a look of disdain. I'm just bummed that I can't appreciate Mortal Kombat on any respectful level.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.