Okay. I’m hooked. Mortal Kombat has been revived again with a new movie scheduled for release in April 2021. The trailer has just dropped on the internet and it is NOT suitable for kiddies. Every graphic gory detail has been enhanced, every cool (very cool) feature has been glorified, and every nostalgic touch has been clearly designed to rake in our geeky dollars. But is it enough to recover from previous attempts within the franchise? And do we really need another stadium-style martial arts film competing for “best blood splatter with still-pulsating arteries”?
Warning: Mortal Kombat (2021) has been rated R for its graphic violence. The most recent video game version, Mortal Kombat 11, has also been rated R (M in the States) for its graphic violence. While we will not be sharing violent imagery here, we do not recommend sharing any videos of the movie or the game with children.
Mortal Kombat: The Franchise
It has been almost 29 years since the first Mortal Kombat (MK) game was released. It was the ruby era for gaming, dominated by the fighting genre and a lot of red, red blood. There was a massive jump in technology with both hardware and software. Home consoles were becoming more affordable and easier to use, while arcade games were fighting for survival with new graphics and hardware. The 1990s brought a transition from 8-bit sprite-based pixel art to 3D full-detail graphics. And nothing tests your graphics better than big explosions and blood-splattered screens.
MK was not the first of its kind, but its rivalry with Street Fighter II (SF II) did elicit some competition with developments in gameplay and imagery. SF II came first with its arcade-style player-v-player fighting. It introduced specific multi-button special moves, rather than the random button-smashing most of us had been doing. If you are currently enjoying the range of special moves found in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity or Super Smash Bros, then raise your Joy-Con and give thanks to SF II.
Hot on the heels, MK was marketed as another arcade stadium-fighting game but with a twist. Where SF II was the game for technique and finesse, MK was the game for gore and comedy. Sure, you can build your skills and learn the special combos, but every player I know was always aiming for the Finishing Moves. Each MK character has their own special move to finish their opponent, played out like a video with very graphic detail. SF II may have been the better game technically, but MK has maintained an almost 30-year legacy because it knows how to entertain the players.
This history lesson is vital to understand why the trailer for Mortal Kombat is so graphically violent. Just so we are clear, I am not advocating for more violence in our video games and movies. I was squeamish enough with the “arm sacrifice” in Snowpiercer. However, I do recognize the role of graphic computer game violence in the advancement of technology and entertainment. The earlier games in the MK franchise were almost comical in their violence. They were certainly creative in their style and application. As the graphics gained more detail, so too did the game gain attention. The most recent installment, Mortal Kombat 11, is definitely in my top 10 most violent games. If the movie is going to stay true to any of its canon and development history, then expect an equal amount of gore and violence.
Should I Play the Games First?
Honestly, I don’t know. Since the initial release in 1992, there are now 11 core games with another 11 variations, spin-offs, and compilations. If you have not played any Mortal Kombat games (and if you do like the fighting genre), then I feel you should at least explore the legacy with an old-school game. You can find Mortal Kombat 1+2+3 on gog.com here. Mortal Kombat 11 was released in 2019 on PS4, Xbox One, Windows, and Switch.
Throughout the series of games, the main characters come and go while the story has developed. A couple of games have released as prequels to give background stories for fan-favorites. The most popular of these was Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, followed by Mortal Kombat: Special Forces with Jax and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks with Liu Kang and Kung Lao.
Do you need to play these games in any particular order? Absolutely not. Hardcore fans will try to convince you to play in chronological order due to character loyalty or whatever, but the truth is it doesn’t matter.
So What Is the Story of Mortal Kombat?
This will be quick. In MK lore, Earth is one of 18 surviving realms created by the Elder Gods. The initial Mortal Kombat was set as a tournament of champions to defend Earth against the invading Outworld. Various champions from each realm are invited to compete in death battles. The last fighter standing wins. Done.
Okay, there is a little more to it than that—but not much more. The story delves deeper, offering various motivations and relationships between the characters. Mythical powers and legendary heritage play a big part in both the story and the appeal for fans of the franchise. I think this is why fans still flock to whatever movie adaptation is released—not just for the gore and “finishing moves,” but for the story within Mortal Kombat. The characters have been created with passion and ideals for why they are there. The sincerity of their place in the fight is more than just a meat shield for the main protagonist. As a long-time fan, I have always appreciated allowing each character to have their own reason for being in the tournament beyond “to defend Earth!”
Mortal Kombat – The Movie (2021)
Beyond the games, we are now up to the third movie in the franchise. This latest movie is a reboot of the MK universe and does not follow the previous two.
Is the original 1995 film worth watching? Sure, if only for basic story elements and hilarious dialogue. Bonus points for the soundtrack and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung. Do not expect the original Mortal Kombat to be a great movie. It is totally a B-grade movie but fantastic for watching as a B-grade movie. Check on Amazon Prime to stream it.
Side note: Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is currently available on Netflix. It is an animated prequel about the relationship between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. It’s rated MA 15+ (rated R in the USA), so probably not quite as heavy going on the graphical violence.
The trailer for the latest movie gives little in regards to the story. The main protagonist is Cole Young, who does not feature in the original MK universe. Reluctant at first, Young is convinced to partake in the tournament and defend Earthrealm from Outworld. I’m not sure if Sonya just beats him into submission or Sub-Zero pins a threatening note to his door with an ice-pick. The only thing clear from the trailer is the level of gore and theatrics, as required for anything in the Mortal Kombat franchise.
I mentioned this earlier but it warrants mentioning again: Mortal Kombat is very graphic in its violence. Both the movie and the recent video game have been rated R and M for good reason. Each MK game has become more graphic with each release—always with a theatrical twist, but there is no hiding the fact that it is glorified violence.
In saying that, the trailer does reveal a good level of martial arts choreography and special effects. There are also plenty of references for old-school fans, including Scorpion’s iconic “Get over here!!!” and Jax’s cyborg arms. One thing missing is comedic relief Johnny Cage and his famous shadow-kick move. Cage’s absence indicates either a darker story for the R-rated movie or a more even share of laughs across the rest of the cast. At the very least, it will be refreshing to see Sonya Blade shine without being someone else’s love interest.
Mortal Kombat is scheduled for release in cinemas and on HBO Max on April 16, 2021.