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MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Mortal Kombat is generally considered the first major success from Hollywood to bring a video game into the big screen. Yes, there have been others before that but what Mortal Kombat managed to do in 1995 no other similar film had managed to do so until then. And more or less it showed the way of how a video game with a less than stellar storyline can be transformed into a fully featured film.
The 1995 version may not have been a blazing success but surely did many things right to be considered a good one for its time. Fast forward 26 years and the film although still has its charm it is firmly fixed into a 90s aura that feels, looks and sounds very cheesy by any today’s standards. And don’t forget that after the failed sequel that came a couple of years later it took a long while until Hollywood could find a way to bring it back to track as the damage was too big to fix.
There have been a few attempts over the years with the most notable ones being Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Legacy Youtube mini-series but in terms of a full feature film there was nothing to spark the hope of the fans worldwide. And this brought us to 2021 where we get a full reboot that plans to bring Mortal Kombat back on track and reintroduce itself to the new generation of fans.
To be honest Mortal Kombat had already the ground paved for it, as the last couple of video games managed to have outstanding success compared to a few less than stellar releases a few years back. So the name Mortal Kombat had good weight and if there was a good moment to bring it back to the big screen now would be the time.
But just for comparison shake the Mortal Kombat (2021) we have now has little resemblance to the first two films that came before as what we have here is a complete reboot rather than a sequel of some short. Going for a reboot was definitely the best move as it would unchain the film of the sins of the past films, especially from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’s atrocious storyline and overall mood.
Obviously when you have such a bad taste as the one that was still there after the 1997 debacle you go into this one with very low expectations. To be totally honest after the release of the trailer there was a glimpse of hope that this might be a good one but having fell into the same pit-hole before we preferred to reserve judgement until final viewing.
The film is definitely a beast of its own and from the first second it shows that it was the filmmakers intention to steer far away from anything related to the old films or any previous material for that mater either film, TV series, web series or any of the comic releases. And this does the film far more good than anyone could expect as this way it is free of comparisons and can carve its own way into the Mortal Kombat universe.
The first thing that really shows is the different tone. More gloomy, dark and overall trying to take itself serious the Mortal Kombat (2021) we have now is lightyears away from the sometimes goofy and cheesy style of the 90s films. The world of Mortal Kombat is hard to make it a believable one and not because of its unreal elements but mostly because of the type of story you get through its world. But it seems that the filmmakers managed to create something that while still well into fantasy managed to hold a grip into reality.
And if the film’s tone was the most apparent change another thing that made waves among fans is the characters that were included. You see in the Mortal Kombat videogames Liu Kang is considered the main character with all the other players just there to complement the story. And this was well transferred by Paul Anderson into the 1995 film. Obviously the most constraint character list of the first games helped with that but we saw how the addition of too many characters affected the sequel among other problems.
The new Mortal Kombat (2021) tried something that none other adaption tried to do till now and this had to do with the addition of a non game character named Cole that has his own set of powers not found in any video game to this date. Obviously this was made in purpose because focusing again on Liu Kang would inevitably bring more comparisons to the table and as we said the main goal here was to steer the film away from such as much as possible.
And while bringing a new character was certainly a dubious one, the inclusion of a wide selection of characters didn’t help either. The film brings some of the more known ones like Liu Kang, Sonya, Kano, Raiden, Kung Lao, Jax, Mileena, Sang Tsung, Goro, Sub-Zero and Scorpion along with a few lesser known ones like Nitara, Reiko and Kabal making it almost impossible to spend the necessary screen time among its fighters. As a result most of them come just as cannon fodder with only a few of them managing to develop their character slightly more to serve the needs of the script.
But what we can say for sure is that while the huge cast hurts the development of its characters this was done far better than what Mortal Kombat: Annihilation had done before. In terms of character development it felt like the filmmakers saw what Annihilation did wrong, and there were plenty of wrongs there, and vastly improved upon it in order to avoid the same mistakes. There are still cracks here and there but Mortal Kombat (2021) is a huge improvement in this part and one that certainly does not break the film apart even if it is one of the weaknesses the film has.
The casting can be considered very good and the actors did the best they could with the material at hand but special mention has to be made for a couple of them. You see just like the original 1995 film had certain memorable characters the same can be said about the reboot also. But this time it is not Raiden or Liu Kang, but Scorpion that in our opinion takes the crown for the most memorable character in the film.
The decision to go for Hiroyuki Sanada for the character of Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion could not be a better one. He gave the character the necessary weight and emotional substance that would justify everything Scorpion would do in the film after Hanzo’s initial fight with Bi-Han. Also Joe Taslim as Bi-Han / Sub-zero was the perfect person from portraying Scorpion’s main rival and this really showed throughout the running time of the film. Although there is an active storyline going forward you could sense that everything evolved around the rivalry of Hanzo and Bi-Han that would end up in the climax of Scorpion facing Sub-zero.
Another thing that really helped the new reboot was the evolution of special effects and CGI in general. The first two films came out at a time when CGI were still in their infancy and as a result many unreal effects looked wacky and overall fake. The original Reptile feels like something that came out of a PlayStation 1. Fast forward 26 years and things couldn’t be any worse making those films as if they were filmed by amateurs rather than being Hollywood graded feature films.
The new Mortal Kombat (2021) is a feast for the eyes in this regard as everything looks so good. From the dragon fire Liu Kang summons, Reptile, the ice effects of Sub-Zero, the green magic of Sang Tsung, the thunderbolts of Raiden and even the full CGI Goro this time feels a world apart from the originals. Yes Goro may look CGI-ish but this version will not make you fall on the floor from laughter after seeing the 1995 version. It’s the same as many superhero films we see nowadays. It’s the kind of material the pre-2000 films could simply not make justice as the technology was still not there to bring their full visual glory on the screen.
And this is one area where Mortal Kombat (2021) really takes advantage. As it’s not only the special powers of the characters that are magnificently depicted here but also the more diverse locals that due to the available technology is easier to faithfully render in comparison.
Another area where the new reboot shines is its fight scenes. If you have ever played any of the Mortal Kombat games then you know that the name Mortal Kombat is tightly connected to bloodbath fight scenes and brutal fatalities. The old films steered away from this although they had a few moments that tried to depict the more violent nature of the games.
And this happened because back them the films were aimed mostly to younger gamers that knew what Mortal Kombat was but was not allowed to be shown due to the strict rating. Nowadays and with the ability to push the film rating even more than ever before the reboot went all in with its bloody nature.
Fight sequences are really very well choreographed and had a purpose that was really missing from the 1997 sequel. The fatalities would happen for a reason and although they do provide the usual eye candy there were there for more than just that. Really if you think that you will go into this movie expecting to see fights similar to the 90s film then you should reconsider. We are in 2021 and fights like the ones in the 90s don’t cut it anymore. And Mortal Kombat (2021) knows that making sure to keep us on the edge with every camera cut and every camera angle.
Overall the new Mortal Kombat (2021) is the film that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation should have been so many years ago. It is not perfect, not by far, as it has a few notable problems especially with its underdeveloped characters and a bit uninspiring storyline. But looking at the whole picture there are so many things it did right that after so many years we can say that it has laid a good foundation for what can be a series of sequels that can follow the same formula of success.
Fans will certainly appreciate that fact that at least we didn’t finish the film with a facepalm regretting the time we spend on it and it surely wet our appetite to see more of the Scorpion / Sub-zero rivalry unfold. The end of the film leaves everything wide open for more stories to follow that could even lead to the actual tournament taking place that can offer plenty of sub-plots and new stories.
If you were hoping for a new Mortal Kombat film then make yourself a favor and watch this one. It will not drop your jaw on the floor but if you consider where the name Mortal Kombat was in Hollywood a few years back then what we have here is a real rebirth and a real chance for Hollywood to make amends for the atrocity of a film we got in 1997. We only hope that they have learned from their mistakes and if and when a sequel arrives it will not be the same failure Annihilation was.
Mortal Kombat lands on the 4K UHD format with a very good 2160p resolution, HEVC / H.265 transfer courtesy of Warner Brothers. It comes with the standard 2.39:1 aspect ratio while the disc strangely features only the basic HDR10 grading so no HDR10+ or Dolby Vision here unfortunately. In terms of audio we get the standard Dolby Atmos treatment which is certainly impressive by any standards.
The film has been shot in 4.5K resolution with the help of Arri Alexa LF and Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras and has been completed into a 2K Digital Intermediate (DI) which means that this UHD version is actually an upscale but a rather good one. It may not be the best we have seen but is for sure up high in the list and certainly we have seen much worse. The extra resolution helps a lot by bringing out more details across the board. The detailed clothing, fine details on the environments and on surfaces makes the image look more refined and with more depth.
The HDR10 grading helps a lot the style of the film as many locals like the Otherworld feel more ethereal and phantasy looking. There are many low lit scenes which results in a lot of details being lost but this has to do mostly with the style it was filmed and not a fault of the transfer itself. There is a wide variation in the colors with the many environments included and the transfer is the best you can see the film right now.
The HDR grading also helps with the many CGI driven effects of the fighters like fire, ice, thunderbolts and other unreal powers. It’s a pity that we don’t get either HDR10+ or Dolby Vision as these would certainly enhance even more the already very good HDR elements seen here.
The Dolby Atmos mix is also in the same boat as the image. Good but not perfect. The film is surprisingly very dialogue driven and here lies its main problem. The dialogue was too low throughout the running time which will certainly make you pick up the remote for some calibration. At the beginning we thought something was a bit off with our system but it turned out it was the film itself. Unacceptable to be honest for a film of this caliper and slightly detracts from the overall experience. But if you don’t pay attention to this then you get a very nice audio experience.
The film is very effects driven and during the fights there are a lot of panning effects putting you right into the middle of the action. Low frequency effects were strong and will give you a rumble or two if you have the necessary hardware while the mix had plenty of details to render if you have a good home theater to take advantage of it.
Overall the 4K UHD version is for sure the best one you can see the film in at the moment. The actual quality is good both in terms of image and audio but they are not perfect, just like the film itself. It has its moments and is far better than what we were hoping to get, it just cannot be considered reference material as there are other releases out there that far surpasses this one in every aspect. But if you liked the film and want the best medium to view it then this UHD version is surely the one.
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