I am, by no means, a film expert. However, as a really average dude, I’m an expert on non-film experts. I know people are sad movie theatres are closed, have been overexposed to repetitive movies while in quarantine, and are tired of worrying about the state of the world. Sometimes, it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and enjoy some mindless fun. 2021's Mortal Kombat is the perfect example of just turning your brain off and enjoying something, no matter what other people will tell you. One of my favorite lines from rapper Slowthai’s song: “NHS” is “[what good is] good music without silly songs[?]”, which Mortal Kombat is the epitome of. For all the Parasites, the Spirited Aways, and Shawshank Redemptions of the world, if every movie was that deep and serious, moviegoing would be a less enjoyable experience. What I’m saying is ignore all the haters, think what you want to think about the movie, and let yourself enjoy a dumb, fun action movie about dudes doing karate with varying degrees of magic.
So, yes, I guess I click baited you a tad. Mortal Kombat is absolutely an essential movie add to the list of films that are influential this year. However, that doesn’t mean that the flick is perfect. Even a quintessential goofy movie like Mamma Mia has plot contrivances, and there are certainly gripes to have with Mortal Kombat, particularly from fans of the game series who were expecting a masterful portrayal of the game experience.
The biggest issue that could be mentioned about the movie would lie in the characters. Cole Young, the new character that’s designed to be an audience insert, feels too cliche, has a notable amount of plot armor, and overall comes off as bland. As audience members, we're supposed to sympathize with him, but his success feels less like a result of his work and more of a result of the plot. His arcana, the manifestation of his magical abilities as a Kombatant, is a super cool exo-torso armor that creates magical tonfa sticks. This leads to some super cool fight choreography and fatalities. However, while every other character unlocks their arcana during pinnacles of their characters (Kano’s being fueled by anger, Briggs’ being fueled by his need to save Sonya, and Sonya’s coming after killing Kano, who’d always been making her petty and unfocused), Cole’s comes from him needing to save his family, despite him already needing to save his family multiple times during the movie. Briggs felt like he went through the deepest arc of the movie, going from confident, to broken, to able to succeed more than ever due to his loyalty to his team. However, he’s also out of commission for half the movie, and he only has one very brief example of him doing any Mortal Kombating. Kano serves as the (sole) comic relief of the movie, and most of that comedy is him being a nuisance to the team. He doesn’t grow much through the movie, and his betrayal was unsurprising and lazily executed. At least his betrayal led to him getting beat by Sonya in a great scene of comeuppance. Sonya absolutely kicks ass throughout the movie and is a somewhat decent exposition tool. However, her personality really is just the “serious girl” stereotype, with her character being somewhat formulaic as “the girl is the best but no one will admit it” plot arc.
Liu Kang is a super cool martial artist with fireballs and has some of the best fight scenes in the movie. He has a very good character arc, beginning with thinking all the other combatants are too comfortable with their abilities, then having to realize he was too comfortable when his best friend, Kung Lao, gets killed protecting him. However, his personality is very goody-two-shoes-esque, and not everyone loves that in the gritty tone of the MK series. Kung Lao has some of the campiest game references in the movie, and brought some awesome fight scenes, too. However, he doesn’t have much of a character arc before he gets killed, and the campiness sometimes can be annoying. As much as I loved hearing “flawless victory”, Kung Lao wound up feeling like he had a completely different writing team. None of these things are inherently bad, in fact, I think a lot of them contribute to one’s ability to embrace the side of the movie world as a “guilty pleasure”.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal discretion. If you aren’t the type of person who can just turn their brain off and enjoy a dumb action flick, you won’t enjoy Mortal Kombat. The same thing goes for if you’re expecting it to be a fantastical experience, or to have groundbreaking cinematography. In its simplest form, Mortal Kombat is a dumb action movie about a series of games with ninjas doing karate with wild characters, and it has what it needs: crazy fights, insane gore, and cheeky references to its source. Sometimes, it’s okay to let good enough be good enough, and just have some fun.