Mortal Kombat

Dept. of Fighting and Fatalities


If you’ve already seen Mortal Kombat and are looking for an explainer of everything that happened in the movie, then check out our spoiler-filled Ending Explained article by clicking here!

It’s been 29 years since Mortal Kombat first came to arcades, and later home consoles, as the bloodier arcade fighting game went head-to-head against Capcom’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. In the intervening years, Mortal Kombat has surfed the wave of popularity and obscurity, with some entries more well received than others. Something that can also be said of the various film adaptations, with a fun “so 90s it hurts” movie in 1995 that was just the second movie ever directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, followed by a sequel that seemed to miss the point of the whole endeavor, along with half the cast.

If you’re not familiar with the series, most entries center on the “Mortal Kombat” fighting tournament. A kompetition between the heroes of “Earthrealm” and the supernatural warriors of Outworld. If Earthrealm loses ten tournaments in a row, the armies of Outworld, led by the sorcerer Shang Tsung, are free to invade the Earthrealm, dooming humanity.


Recognising that the palette swapped ninjas of Sub-Zero and Scorpion are probably the most well known members of the franchise, from their easily recognisable outfits and catchphrases, to their power sets, director Simon McQuoid and the writing team of Dave Callaham, Oren Uziel, and Greg Russo have built their story around the ninjas eternal rivalry.

While I was hoping, unrealistically, that Mortal Kombat 2021 would open with the same yell of “MORTAL KOMBAT” and bangin’ dance tune that accompanied the New Line logo in Anderson’s version from 1995, I was not expecting the film to open with a lush, 15-20 minute period Asian martial arts drama. After barely setting up the blood feud between the cruel Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) and Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), Mortal Kombat cuts to the modern day as Bi-Han, now going by the moniker Sub-Zero, hunts down every Earthrealm hero who bears the Mortal Kombat logo, marking them as a kontestant in the tournament, whether they know it or not. 

Shang Tsung (Chin Han), having won 9 out of the last 10 tournaments, fears a never explained prophecy predicting his loss in the next one. In order to guarantee a “Flawless Victory,” he plans to murder all the possible Kombatants from Earthrealm before the tournament can even begin. Amongst his targets: the oblivious Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a new character to the series but with links to an existing cherished character, who’s rescued from Sub-Zero by Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) who, in turn, sets Cole on the path to Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee).

While they figure out what’s going on, they’ll cross path with Australian criminal Kano (Josh Lawson), Shaolin fighter Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the God of Thunder, and more. (Note: we’ll stay away from spoilers in this review, but If you want to check out the full list of fighters check out our Mortal Kombat Ending Explained article.)

Mortal Kombat

Kano Wins! 

As someone who still owns his boxed Amiga copies of the first two games (The SNES version may be more graphically faithful, Sega’s Megadrive – never Genesis! – may have the blood, but you really haven’t lived until you’ve played the one button Amiga version), and who enjoyed Anderson’s movie, at the time and during a recent rewatch, I have to say it was a delight to experience the slow drip of characters from my youth. I hadn’t thought about one character who turns up in decades and I was doubly surprised when they were really cool on screen!

While Anderson’s film mostly concentrated on the tournament itself, McQuoid wisely avoids the Tournament Arc trope, understanding that watching one fight scene after another can get a little wearing, even if they are well choreographed and shot. Instead we get the forces of Shang Tsung seeking out earth’s heroes until they… um… fight them one by one. Still, the movie throws in enough to keep things from getting stale, starting with Josh Lawson’s Kano. Obnoxious and crude, pretty much everything out of the Australian’s mouth is comedy gold, something I was not expecting from an MK movie.

That’s not to say the fights need distracting from. In what appears to be his first full length feature, McQuoid executes the action well, showcasing the signature moves of the various fighters, as well as pulling back occasionally to frame the fighters side on, just like a screenshot from the games. Its not frequent enough to deserve revokation of the films action credentials, but it’s a nice touch.


“Restraint” is not a word that I thought I would associate with a film that heavily features ninjas, sorcerers, and fireball flinging Shaolin monks, but considering it’s based upon the franchise that gave the world “Fatalities” and “X-Ray Attacks,” the film is remarkably restrained. Despite what was shown in the first trailer, characters aren’t constantly spouting their names, the names of their special moves, or many of the other catchphrases of the series. When they do appear, they feel like part of the action. Unlike Anderson’s ’95 movie, they even get the usage of “Flawless Victory” right! (The loser in that fight must have taken some health off the winner of that round!)

With enough characters, and action, to keep things moving along, Mortal Kombat never gets boring or grating. Lewis Tan is fine as the mysterious hero (expect a DLC coming soon!), although his character is a little too earnest to be interesting, given he’s supposed to be the lead. I was a little disappointed to see how little Hiroyuki Sanada appeared, and how Sonya is, at first, dumped on almost as much as she was in the ’95 film. In that movie, Sonya was reduced to a damsel in distress for the third act, whereas here, while a more active participant, whether in homage or by accident, Jessica McNamee gets saddled with most of the clunky exposition and what few messy emotional scenes there are. At least the ones that don’t involve fighting though your feelings.

Chin Han might not be a match for the sheer intensity that is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung (who could ever be?, but he provides a decent enough villain. It would have been nice if the production team could have decided whether or not they wanted his eyes to be all black all the time though. The stoic Tadanobu Asano is more than up to the task of facing off against him as the big screen Raiden.


Mortal Kombat is the type of fun action movie that doesn’t shy away from having its cast say “FATALITY” or “FLAWLESS VICTORY” after a particularly satisfying scrap. Where two ninjas can respond to threats hurled at each another, even though one is speaking Chinese and the other Japanese, and be taken seriously, even after the movie itself points out they can’t understand each other. Where the Outland, the Prophecy, and what Shang Tsung actually wants are never really addressed, but it nevertheless still feels satisfying.

This is the type of movie that knows Scoprion’s Harpoon is awesome and doesn’t feel the need to rationalise where the rope goes after Scorpion reels it in. It makes just enough sense to work while you are watching it and, to be honest, what more could you ask for?

Mortal Kombat, in any of its video game guises, may not be the much-sought-after Citizen Kane of video games. Mortal Kombat the 2021 movie is definitely no Citizen Kane but… it may just be the Citizen Kane of fighting video game movie adaptations. I wouldn’t mind seeing another one, if only to see how they handle the characters teased at the end of the film! (Don’t click this unless you want to be spoiled!)

Mortal Kombat is out in Malaysian cinemas now. If you’re in the United States, Mortal Kombat is scheduled to be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23rd.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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