‘Mortal Kombat’ is a surprising smash hit

The title screen for “Mortal Kombat” (2021). 

Margaret Troup

Director Simon McQuoid’s “Mortal Kombat” was an unexpected box office smash upon its release April 16.

“Mortal Kombat” (2021) is a film based on the hugely popular video game series of the same name. Since the first “Mortal Kombat” released in 1992, the franchise has had 18 video game entries, three feature films and countless knock-offs that have further perpetuated the original series’ popularity.

These fighting-based games revolve around players choosing from a roster of characters to fight each other until a victor has won. The games are known for their controversial final blows, wherein excessive violence, blood and gore are commonly found. 

While the games generally garner positive reviews, the same cannot be said for the two “Mortal Kombat” films that were released in the 1990s. “Mortal Kombat” (1995) and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” (1997) both hold mediocre to horrible scores and reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with the latter film holding one of the lowest scores on the film review website — a 2 percent freshness score. 

Luckily, it seems the 2021 film adaptation of “Mortal Kombat” has broken the series streak of bad luck.

Based on the franchise’s previous track record with movie adaptations, fans of the “Mortal Kombat” games did not have high hopes for yet another film entry. However, with a box office opening weekend performance of over $51 million, it’s safe to say fans’ expectations were blown away.

The story of “Mortal Kombat” (2021) follows Cole Young, a semi-professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter who’s been down on his luck. After meeting Jax, one of the many well-known “Mortal Kombat” roster characters to appear in this film, Cole’s life turns into a journey of discovering the meaning behind his dragon birthmark and defeating the evil members of the Outworld in a tournament known as “Mortal Kombat.”

This film has just enough nods to its video game source material to keep long-time fans interested and new-comers excited. Characters such as Jax, Sonya Blade, Kano, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Liu Kang and many others all make an appearance without it feeling overwhelming. 

The costume designs are very accurate to the video game counterparts without looking cheap or cheesy and while adding modernized twists. Foreshadowing in the characters’ costumes and weapons continue the trend of nodding to the video games’ content while keeping viewers excited for the next battles.

Arguably the best part of “Mortal Kombat,” both the games and the 2021 film, is the music. The original 1992 soundtrack has been popular since its initial release, and this classic music combined with more modern rock accompaniment makes for an epic experience. 

The fighting sequences in this film add excitement to the plot and are very well choreographed. The brutal executions the “Mortal Kombat” games are known for are ever-present and continue the franchise’s streak of being over the top. Well-known lines from the “Mortal Kombat” games, such as “Get over here!” and “Flawless victory!” are sprinkled throughout the film without overstaying their welcome.

All the surprisingly good parts of this film come with a few pitfalls as well. The acting of Lewis Tan and Tadanobu Asano could be a bit wooden at times, and there was no lack of plot holes in the overall story. Despite these mishaps, “Mortal Kombat” (2021) far and away overcame anyone’s expectations, and it honestly has no right being as good as it is.

“Mortal Kombat” can be seen in theaters and on HBO Max.

Final verdict: 8.5/10