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Mortal Kombat 2021: A Review of the Film's Strengths and Weaknesses

Mortal Kombat is a 2021 American martial arts fantasy film directed by Simon McQuoid from a screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, based on the video game series of the same name created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. The film serves as a reboot of the Mortal Kombat film series.[4] It stars Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Max Huang, Joe Taslim, and Hiroyuki Sanada.[5] The film follows Cole Young, a washed-up mixed martial arts fighter who is unaware of his hidden lineage or why the assassin Sub-Zero is hunting him down. Concerned for the safety of his family, he seeks out a clique of fighters that were chosen to defend Earthrealm against Outworld.

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Mortal Kombat was released internationally on April 8, 2021, and in the United States on April 23, simultaneously in theaters in Dolby Cinema, IMAX, and 4DX formats and on the streaming service HBO Max. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the performances, production values, action sequences, and greater faithfulness to the source material than the previous films, but criticised its dialogue and exposition.[7] The film grossed over $84 million against a $55 million production budget and became HBO Max's most-successful film launch to date. A sequel is in development, starring Karl Urban in the lead role,[8] and with Jeremy Slater set to write the screenplay and McQuoid returning as director.[9][10]

In the year 2021, the realm of Outworld has defeated Earthrealm in nine tournaments known as "Mortal Kombat". If Earthrealm loses a tenth one, the rules state it will be conquered by Outworld. However, an ancient prophecy states that the "blood of Hanzo Hasashi" will unite a new generation of Earthrealm's champions to prevent Outworld's victory. Aware of this, sorcerer Shang Tsung, who has overseen the last nine victories, sends his warriors to kill Earthrealm's champions, identified by a dragon mark, before the next tournament begins. One such champion, MMA fighter Cole Young, is attacked alongside his family by Bi-Han, who now calls himself Sub-Zero. However, Special Forces Major Jackson "Jax" Briggs rescues the Youngs, directing them to find his partner, Sonya Blade, with whom he has been investigating Mortal Kombat's existence. Jax stays to battle Sub-Zero, but loses his arms in the process.

James Wan signed on as the film's producer in August 2015.[30] Simon McQuoid was hired as director in November 2016, marking his feature directorial debut, with Greg Russo writing the script.[31][32] McQuoid had turned down the offer initially, but ultimately signed on after reading Russo's script.[33] Russo tweeted in February 2019 that the film's script was complete.[32] In May 2019, it was announced that the film had entered pre-production and would be shot in South Australia,[34] with a release date of March 5, 2021.[35] Russo tweeted in July 2019 that the film would indeed have an R rating and that the games' Fatalities would "finally be on the big screen".[36]

Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), an Adelaide company, was principal VFX provider, delivering over 600 visual effects shots for the film. The studio's artists also created the effects for the last scene, a furious fight lasting around 10 minutes.[49] RSP won an AEAF Special Merit Award in 2021 for their work on the film.[50]

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The score for Mortal Kombat was composed by Benjamin Wallfisch.[51] In March 2021, director Simon McQuoid revealed that Wallfisch actually began compositions for the film before he was officially hired on the project and that the film will include a new version of the track "Techno Syndrome" by The Immortals,[52] produced by Wallfisch.

On January 15, 2021, which was when the film was initially set to release prior to being delayed due the COVID-19 pandemic, Entertainment Weekly released a first look of the film, which contained several behind the scenes photos.[53] On February 17, 2021, a series of character posters were released for the film, along with the next announcement that the film's first trailer would be released the following day.[54] On February 18, 2021, the first red band trailer for the film was released online.[55][56] The film's first trailer had become the most-watched red-band trailer until the release of the first trailer of The Suicide Squad a month later.[57][58]

Mortal Kombat was theatrically released internationally, beginning on April 8, 2021,[59] and was later released in the United States on April 23, 2021, in both theaters in Dolby Cinema, IMAX and 4DX and on HBO Max.[60] The film was originally going to be released on March 5, 2021, before being moved up to January 15, 2021.[61] In November 2020, producer Todd Garner confirmed that the film would be delayed until theaters are reopened due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[47] before it was finally dated for release on April 16 in 3D.[62] As part of its plans for all of its 2021 films, Warner Bros. also streamed the film simultaneously on the HBO Max service for one month, after which the film was removed until the normal home media release schedule period.[63] In Australia and New Zealand, the film was released onto Netflix in January 2022 despite its HBO Max release elsewhere due to the service's HBO Max lack of availability outside of North America.[64]

In late March 2021, the film was delayed one week to April 23.[60][65] The film was released in Japan on June 18, 2021, despite not having Mortal Kombat games released officially in the country due to CERO gaming rules concerning excessive gore.[66]

Following its U.S. release, Samba TV reported that 3.8 million households watched at least the first five minutes over its first three days.[68] It was watched in 4.3 million households during its first week[69] and 5.5 million households over the first 17 days, a record for an HBO Max title.[70] By the end of its first month, the film had been streamed in over 5.6 million U.S. households.[71] In January 2022, tech firm Akami reported that Mortal Kombat was the fifth most pirated film of 2021.[72]

Joe Taslim, who played Sub-Zero in the film, revealed that he signed on for four sequels pending the success of the reboot.[89] Co-writer Greg Russo told Collider that he saw the reboot as the start of a trilogy with the second film set during the Mortal Kombat tournament and the third film set post-tournament.[90] On September 14, 2021, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was seeking to develop additional works for its Mortal Kombat universe.[91]

The Mortal Kombat series is one of the most popular and influential video game series of all time. Ever since the first game came out in 1992, the series has spawned various titles in different forms of media such as comic books, animated series, and films. In 2021, a soft reboot of the film series was released and it is filled with tons of nods to the long-running video game series.

Mortal Kombat screenwriter Greg Russo revealed that Johnny Cage wasn't in the 2021 reboot because of Josh Lawson's performance as Kano. The first time since the iconic tournament was brought to life onscreen since 1997, Mortal Kombat features six out of seven of the original playable characters, including Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, and Kano, with one notably absent. Each of these character's lives were established, with several earning their Arcanas along the way.

Graeme Guttmann is the Senior TV News Editor for Screen Rant, as well as a critic and interviewer. Graeme joined the Screen Rant team in 2020 as a freelancer before becoming an editor for the news team in 2021. You can follow him on Twitter @pentagraeme.

The 2021 film also upped the gore quotient considerably. While the martial arts of the 1995 film were decidedly PG-13, the tone of the movie was only a few steps removed from Power Rangers in some respects, including its introduction of a horrible CGI creation known as Reptile. The Reptile in the 2021 film appears more convincingly, like the latest monstrosity out of a Jurassic World lab, and the violence he commits is visually gruesome (more on that later).

Honestly, preferences over the aesthetic differences between the two films comes down to a matter of taste. I prefer the tongue-in-cheek eye rolls of the 1995 film given how nonsensical this universe is, and how at the end of the day its target audience remains children. Yet I imagine many adult fans of the video games will prefer the blood-soaked earnestness found in 2021.

One day, his village was attacked by Bi-Han and members of the Lin Kuei clan. The assassins eliminated the Shirai Ryu while Bi-Han killed Harumi and Satoshi. He made a makeshift rope spear and eliminated the Lin Kuei assassins. When he faces Bi-Han, he was overpowered by Bi-Han's cryomancy. Bi-Han then mortally wounded Hanzo with his own spear. Hanzo eventually succumbed to his wounds and disappeared into flames.

Then, in 2021, audiences were treated to a reboot of the original Mortal Kombat film, which was an enormous success. In fact, it was so successful that New Line Cinema executives almost immediately greenlit a sequel. This new film is currently in production and promises to be everything that fans wanted from past movies. New characters will be added, more lore will be explored, and the world of Mortal Kombat will get bigger.

One character confirmed for the movie is Noob Saibot. He will be played by Joe Taslim, who had the role of Sub-Zero in the 2021 movie. For those unfamiliar with the video game canon, Sub-Zero transformed into the deadly shadow Noob Saibot after being defeated by Scorpion. So it is a delight he will return played by the same actor. He is the epitome of evil in the game series, so this transformation from ice ninja into evil shadow will be an event fans won't want to miss.

EXCLUSIVE: After the most recent Mortal Kombat pic overachieved at box office, New Line is ready to get back in to the arena on a sequel. Sources tell Deadline that Simon McQuoid is set to return as director for the follow-up to the 2021 action-adventure hit.


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