[Review] New ‘MORTAL KOMBAT’ tests its might and drops its narrative guard

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Rated R, 110 minutes.
Director: Simon McQuoid
Cast: Lewis TanJessica McNameeJosh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chin Han, Ludi Lin, Max Huang and Sisi Stringer

A fighting video game kind of needs to have a storyline in place for the sake of identity. Not just for the characters but the world itself. Isn’t it important to know who these characters are and why they are fighting—again and again?

Your overall enjoyment of the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat depends on your answer to that very question. 

Do you prefer to have some characters who you’ll connect with while sipping on this bloody cocktail—or perhaps you’re more like Ken Watanabe in Godzilla, exclaiming, “Let them fight!” 

If you’re on the backend of that, this new Mortal Kombat movie may have all the intestine-spilling action to slap a smile on your face. But if you’re expecting it to have as much narrative glory as it does guts, you might want to throw in the towel.

Mortal Kombat contains a clunky plot that requires a fast-speed bike to keep up. But if you strip away its padding, it involves a MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan) who is chosen to fight among the greatest champions from near and very far in a high-stakes death match. The fate of Earth hangs in balance, and it’s up to Cole and some new friends (Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Mehcad Brooks, Max Huang, and Ludi Lin) to save it.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by the unknown Simon McQuoid, this movie feels like it was developed around the same time as its 1995 predecessor. It’s all kinds of stupid, with stilted dialogue, wacky editing, and characters you could care less who walks away with a “flawless victory.” (Well, save for Lin as warrior monk Liu Kang. He’s great. We needed more than his mid-movie entrance.)

Its attempt at humor feels like a less talented writer doing their best James Gunn. It’s action looks good in small doses, but for the most part, it’s unsteady. The camera angles are all over the place and don’t allow the fight choreography to shine. The movie tries to cover up its many imperfections with sensational violence. At least the original movie had that awesome theme track to pump you up. (Its cover doesn’t pop up until the end credits, really, and it’s nothing special.)


Mortal Kombat isn’t completely dull. It’s just frustrating because there’s so much potential that extends beyond its kills. The mythology has a lot to explore, as the many games have shown us. One wishes they had produced something more contained and character-focused (like the first Deadpool movie). It throws a lot at the wall without any service to its characters. Allow all the bells and whistles to sound down the road. You’re not the Avengers just yet.

Grade: C

Opens Friday in theaters and also available to stream (at no additional charge) for HBOMax subscribers.

Watch the first seven minute below:

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.