Release Date(s)2021 (July 13, 2021)
Studio(s)New Line Cinema/Warner Bros Pictures (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Though two films and a couple of TV shows were released outside of the infamous video game franchise, Mortal Kombat has been surprisingly dormant in big screen, live action form since Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was released in 1997. That film was so poorly received that the planned follow-up was scrapped entirely, leaving the series in creative limbo for over two decades. After false starts along the way and the eventual involvement of James Wan, Mortal Kombat was finally released in April of 2021 simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although not a major financial success given the parameters, it made a nice little profit and was popular on streaming.
In 17-century Japan, the assassin Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), also known as Sub-Zero, murders Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family, leaving Hanzo’s infant daughter to be rescued by the God of Thunder, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). In present day, a down on his luck former MMA fighter named Cole (Lewis Tan), a descendant of Hanzo, bears the mark of the dragon, signifying that he will someday represent Earthrealm in a tournament called Mortal Kombat. Former Special Forces officers Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) are searching for those with the mark, and upon locating Cole, are attacked by Sub-Zero who has been sent from Outworld by the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han) to eliminate Earthrealm’s fighters. Dragging along the unwilling criminal Kano (Josh Lawson), they travel to Raiden’s temple where they meet Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), both trained fighters awaiting the eventual tournament. Shang Tsung and his assassins—including Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Kabal (Daniel Nelson/Damon Herriman), Nitara (Mel Jarnson), and Goro (Angus Sampson)—make their way to Lord Raiden’s temple while Hanzo bides his time in the Netherealm, fully intent on returning as Scorpion and exacting his revenge by killing Sub-Zero.
The abundance of criticisms laid at Mortal Kombat since its release don’t feel entirely justified. Part of the key into creating a successful film based on this property is to take the subject matter seriously enough, respect the existing mythology, and remember to have fun with it. No film could ever satisfy all of the franchise’s fans, but the 2021 incarnation is about as close as it comes to making something out of it that isn’t outright stupid or pandering. Granted, this film is by no means perfect. Some of the dialogue is a little shaky, a few of the main characters are a bit one note, and there are pacing issues with the storyline. But despite all of that, it manages to offer strong visuals, interesting environments, decent characterization, and a reason to invest. Introducing a new character as the lead, an underdog that could do better given the opportunity, is an old-fashioned way of getting the audience into the story. He’s there for much of the exposition, but his journey to protect his family clashes with the Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero storyline, and though the two threads do meet at the end, it doesn’t feel like it was ironed out all that well.
The biggest draw, and one of the reasons why Mortal Kombat works to a certain extent, is that it fully earns its R-rating. It’s not a shy film, throwing around excessive swearing, and the violence is graphic and gory, reflecting its source material in spades. It balances well-choreographed and well-executed martial arts action with over-the-top fantastical violence without ever feeling burdensome in either direction. It also blends its effects, relying less on CGI than most of its sort. It’s great seeing all of these professional martial artists kicking ass in a mainstream American film. In essence, the majority of Mortal Kombat 2021 is surprisingly enjoyable, certainly more than most are willing to give it credit for.
Mortal Kombat was captured digitally by cinematographer Germain McMicking in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K), using Arri Alexa cameras and a variety of lenses, and it was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Warner Bros has upscaled that source to 4K and graded it for high dynamic range (HDR10 is the only option available). It’s a crisp and colorful presentation, with a nice variety of environments helping to shake things up visually. Detail often excels, particularly in the shadowy and darkened spaces in Raiden’s temple, Outworld, and in the Earth-bound environments. This presentation proves that with effective production design, lighting, and shot composition, excellent depth can be achieved with digital cinematography. The color grading also lends itself to this cause; the HDR widens the gamut enough to allow blacks to be inky yet uncrushed, and also enhances the coloring of objects, costumes, and backdrops. Colored gels for lighting also pop along the edges and in the background. And the film’s CGI isn’t nearly as obvious here as it is in standard 1080p, specifically moments involving faux stunt actors and artificial lighting (Jax’s initial entrance into the audience of the MMA arena is a good example). This is not a reference-quality presentation, but it's comparable to other similar films of its genre.
The main audio is provided in English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). It’s an active and highly immersive presentation with real force behind it. The dialogue is mixed a bit lower than the rest of the soundtrack, but not to the point of annoyance or unintelligibility. The rest of the track is balanced and powerful, with excellent sweeping movement all around the sound space, even in the height channels. The low frequency effects will really rattle your windows. All in all, it’s a powerful track that seems to represent the theatrical audio experience well. Additional audio options include US and UK English Descriptive Audio tracks, as well as English, Quebec French, French, Italian, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Italian SDH, Dutch, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Spanish.
The 4K disc contains no extras, but included in the same package is a Blu-ray offering the film in 1080p with the following extras (all in HD):
- Deleted Scene: Reel 3 – Scene 33 (1:01)
- Deleted Scene: Reel 3 – Scene 35 (1:54)
- Deleted Scene: Reel 4 – Scene 55A (:44)
- Deleted Scene: Reel 5 – Scene 75 (:32)
- From Game to Screen: The Making of Mortal Kombat (21:30)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Cole Young (1:26)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Sonya Blade (1:20)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Kano (2:04)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Sub-Zero (1:30)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Jax (1:21)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Lord Raiden (1:49)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Scorpion (1:46)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Shang Tsung (1:23)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Liu Kang (1:46)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Kung Lao (1:43)
- Mortal Kombat: Fan Favorite Characters – Mileena (1:17)
- Fight Koreography (9:05)
- Intro the Crypt: Easter Eggs of Mortal Kombat (4:11)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Hanzai Hasashi v. Bi-Han (1:53)
- Anatomy of a Scene: MMA Fight – Cole vs. Ramirez (1:51)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Sonya v. Kano (1:34)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Scorpion v. Sub-Zero (2:17)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Reiko v. Jax (1:14)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Kabal v. Liu Kang (1:29)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Mileena v. Cole (2:00)
The deleted scenes offer less than three minutes of cut material. The first offers an extended Cole nightmare sequence, as well as a longer version of Kane’s story aboard the airplane. The second features Mileena confronting Shang Tsung and nearly being killed for telling him that his plan isn’t working. The third features Liu Kang and Kung Lao speaking to Lord Raiden and telling him about their doubts over the newly-arrived fighters. And the fourth is Sub-Zero confronting Shang Tsung for not knowing about Hanzo Hasashi’s descendant. From Game to Screen is a brief but decent look at the development of the film. It speaks to members of the cast and crew about their exposure to the video games; how much thought and detail went into creating the film, including shooting on location in new and exotic places across the globe and relying as little on green screen as possible; helping to create characters through costume design; the uses of CGI and how it was applied to fantastical elements as well as augmenting practical moments; and the surprising uses of practical effects in the film. It’s interesting to note that some of the artwork on the walls is blurred out, making one wonder if they’re saving a few ideas for a sequel. The eleven Fan Favorite Characters featurettes briefly discuss each character with the cast and crew. Fight Koreography gets into the nitty gritty of the film’s fighting and stunts, particularly the martial arts moves and the stunt crew. Into the Crypt features director Scott McQuoid revealing how much attention to detail was paid by the filmmakers, even for minor references. The seven Anatomy of a Scene featurettes have McQuoid discussing each of the selected scenes in a bit more detail. It’s a little over an hour’s worth of material to dig through, which is not bad for a release of a modern film on physical media. It’s not entirely thorough, but it’s not fluffy and useless like a lot of studio-produced extras. There’s also a Digital code on a paper insert.
Going into Mortal Kombat 2021, I expected less from it than what I actually got it. I ended up kind of loving it for a lot of the things that it does right. It’s not a flawless film, but it was made with thought and care, and actually succeeds at being entertaining despite itself and its detractors. The 4K UHD presentation of the film is enjoyable as well, with excellent video and audio and a decent extras package to go along with it. Very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons