‘Mortal Kombat’ Misses the Tone of Its Source Material

For all the attempts Hollywood has made, there’s still a surprisingly low number of good video game movies, and the new Mortal Kombat movie isn’t bucking the trend. While the movie does a passable job at replicating the game’s ultraviolence, a bloated plot with one too many origin stories drags the action down. Largely missing the series’ tongue in cheek humor, it’s a movie that attempts to make a video game story “serious” when the game itself is really anything but. We discuss Mortal Kombat, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, and more on this episode of Waypoint Radio.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/88na9x/mortal-kombat-misses-the-tone-of-its-source-material

And you can’t even say “Well, it’s MK, what’d you expect?” because MK 11’s story was really good (with one obvious caveat). This new film is like a very poorly edited prelude to an actual Mortal Kombat film, and it’s such a waste of its top billed talent.

Yeah, MK11 was my first MK game and I even found a lot to like in its story. I still liked the Mortal Kombat film but there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement (and I don’t just mean getting someone to say “Cyber Lin Kuei Factory”)

I enjoyed the new Mortal Kombat overall, but you can tell it was another WB hatchet job - look at the fights they were clearly choreographed around wider and longer shots and then hacked up, in addition to the Cole Young character being a studio mandated thing. It’s the only way to explain some of weird cuts in the fights like they just didn’t have the close up coverage for some moments because they weren’t originally shot with Hollywood fight scene editing in mind.

Be interesting to see if some other cut of this movie exists.

I hated how the Cole Young character’s ability turned out, and you can tell that very late in the game how it worked was changed. Most of the time he was on screen you could almost feel the rewrites happening in real time.

Joe Taslim is signed on for like four more MK movies so I do hope they make a direct sequel to it, the cast in general was very rad except for Lewis Tan. Tan himself is awesome but the character he’s got in this is so lame I literally forgot Lewis Tan was playing him and had to look it up just now for this post. That’s saying a lot considering how charismatic Lewis Tan can be.

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I agree with you on the editing. This movie cuts so jarringly and it feels like they opt for the close-up when they clearly shot the movie in wide-shots like the John Wick movies. I just saw Nobody and they shoot an entire fight scene inside the confines of a bus that’s more legible than multiple fights in MK set on open ground.

It definitely feels like studio interference, or at very least a conscious decision to keep the extended scenes of martial arts to a minimum due to the story’s reliance on CGI effects.

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The story mode in MK has been very good from 9 on, but it’s hardly a fair comparison. The MK story mode can get away with not caring at all if you know these characters because you’re probably not hopping on for the very first time, and even if you are you can just mash the skip button to get to the game part if you don’t like it. If you don’t want the story of an MK game, there’s still a game for you to care about. No matter how much you like the action of a movie, you can’t really just make 100 minutes of fight scenes with no connective tissue and call it a day. On top of that even cutting out all the gameplay, the cutscenes in those games alone is over two hours. You’re just not going to get that kind of breathing room for this kind of movie.

Spoilers for MK below:

MK is a movie that dies from a thousand weird little choices. The idea of Cole isn’t terrible in and of itself, it just doesn’t work as a part of the rest of the film. He is a chosen one because he is the descendent of Hanzo Hasashi, which fine I guess, but then Hanzo comes back from Netherealm anyway so frankly who cares? Mortal Kombat is a tournament, and there were nine before, but let’s not go into detail about those at all. Shang Tsung wants to invade and take over but he can’t because of the rules, yet he’s breaking the rules anyway so why bother? The fighters must unlock their secret arcana and there isn’t a moment to lose except for all the time that’s passed since the last tournament I guess. We spend half the movie dealing with what arcana are, why they matter, how you get them, but we just meet a guy in weird wannabe predator armor and he’s Kabal who knows Kano, no further explanation necessary. Jax’s arcana, a mystical magical power, is that he gets dope mechanical metal arms, right after he gets less dope mechanical arms. Either these arcana work off a sick, twisted sense of humor or Jax was always going to get metal arms which is the world’s shittiest coincidence. It’s equally infuriating because Sonya Blade isn’t one of the special chosen and doesn’t become one until she kills Kano and takes his place, a rule that has not been established or even hinted at up until that point. They could have easily made Sonya a chosen one, let Jax not get an arcana, but then he gets awesome robot arms which allows him to fight despite that.

It was a decent way to spend a mindless 90+ minutes while I did other things. It was never going to be a masterpiece, but it could have been better. Maybe with a sequel and less table setting to get out of the way it can have a little more to work with.

This is true if you mean movies based on video game IP — but there are actually quite a few really good movies that steal game-y structures and aesthetics or have the idea of a game as a plot point. Edge of Tomorrow is a riot and its plot logic is absolutely that of a video game. Source Code is maybe the underrated sci-fi gem of the 2010s. And in case you want to say that those are both just time loop movies (which, fair!), 1917 is by all structural descriptions essentially a third-person shooter and very nearly won an academy award. (Also, it’s a good film!)

I don’t have a dog in this fight, I just like pointing out that the issue really isn’t with “making video game movies”; it’s invariably the corporate filmmaking approach to video game IP (excluding bad actors like Uwe Boll, etc. who make bad movies as a form of tax evasion.)

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I don’t understand how you live in these times and think your movie doesn’t need a tournament. Have any of these writers been on an anime forum when the show promises a tournament? Every comment is “TOURNAMENT ARC! TOURNAMENT ARC! GET HYPE” with that gif of little Deku from MHA rocking back and forth in his chair.

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I agree with a lot of these critiques over this movie, but I have a slight correction. When Sonya is lore dumping to Cole in the beginning, she mentions that Kano originally got his mark when he assassinated the person she was tracking and it transferred to him. So they do set up that if you kill a “chosen one”, you get to take their spot. Ultimately the wildest thing about this movie is that they just never have the tournament???

Also, as somebody pointed out on Twitter, if you turn closed captioning on, when Liu Kang kills Kabal, he clearly says Fatality, but the captions read “speaks in a foreign language”.

The biggest offender of this to me will always be Street Fighter, just because from the get go Capcom was adamant on it NOT being a tournament movie and doing this weird GI Joe/James Bond hybrid. I mean the games have plenty of stupid stuff to draw on but if you’re going to have that many of the characters in the movie how are you not just remaking Bloodsport, and you even had Van Damme!

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I think you’re right. Explicitly “Video game” movies often have a big “Hello, Fellow Kids” vibe.
And if feel it, imagine how actual kids probably read it, lol. Artists reacting to the existence of video games with pretty shallow takes or appropriations of form, but not really engaging with them.

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Yeah they do mention that about the arcana several times throughout the flick.

If you look at the sets and CG backgrounds, they clearly have ones like the pit and the Order of Light training area and the Outworld cliff and stuff that are clearly “this is a dramatic tournament venue” places, I bet by adding the whole arcana thing they realized if there was a tournament they’d have to answer what happens if someone kills more than one person with the mark lol

He very clearly says “For Kung Lao.” and the subtitles said it too when we watched it.

That’s the second part of the line. The subtitles got that part correct. But it definitely misses the first part.

Found the tweet I saw with the video of it.

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I totally missed this but replaying it now, yeah he very clearly audibly says “Fatality” and the subtitle track we used doesn’t even subtitle it at all though, so it would seem captioning and subtitling software and subtitlers the world over just completely failed lol

Huh, I obviously missed that, my bad. Still, seems like a weird contrivance that could have been resolved the way i mentioned.

The fact that a giant, bloody-font text “FATALITY” wasn’t superimposed on the screen when he said the thing shows a complete misunderstanding of why people go to see a Mortal Kombat. I mean, usually I’m against that kind of “hey, look, it’s the thing you know”, but MK in particular is so campy in the source material that it demands that approach.

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This was why I loved Kung Lao in this movie so much, all of his dialogue was just like 1:1 perfect English kung fu movie dub writing like the same flicks that inspired so much of MK, plus him using the hat like the shield and ring weapons that would pop up in those flicks and saying “FLAWLESS. VICTORY.” out loud.

The guy who played Kung Lao seems like he sat down and marathoned 9-11 repeatedly before setting foot on set. He was absolutely perfect.

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People making the MK movie: “I’m just not sure people will understand that this character is about to have his soul sucked out, how can we get that across? Wait! I got it!”

(picture taken from this tweet https://twitter.com/_BrooklynBear/status/1386922791757352962)

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Absolutely! Someone also said (either around here or on the podcast, can’t remember which), “lore is not plot.” Which is a really important distinction, because a lot of movies based on video game IP try to just inject a stock fantasy plot with UNIQUE LORE, rather than treating lore as what it is — setting, worldbuilding, character backgrounds, flavor in general — and putting in the effort to make a real plot that takes advantage of the foundation it provides.

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