The first trailer for the brand new Mortal Kombat movie debuted last week and if you're even a little bit a fan of the video game series it's based on, there's a lot to like in that trailer. It's going to be an R-rated movie, meaning that all the trademark over-the-top violence of the game series that was once controversial will be part of the film, and we certainly saw that in the red band trailer. The trailer includes a sequence where fan-favorite Sub Zero injures his opponent, causing a spurt of blood, which he then freezes solid, and stabs the dude with. It's a very Mortal Kombat sort of mood, and yet, I'm far from convinced that Mortal Kombat is the video game movie we've been waiting for.
As a fan of video games, and movies, and video game movies, I'm looking forward to the first truly great film based on a video game, something that successfully captures the essence of what the game is, while also being a good movie. There are some reasons Mortal Kombat appears to have done this well, but there are also some others that I'm less certain about. Let's take a deep dive.
The Mortal Kombat Plot Might Actually Be Overthinking Things
My issue isn't so much with the Mortal Kombat trailer, although there are some hints of what worries me to be found there. Along with the trailer came an official ploy synopsis, and it is what really has me concerned. You see, the plot synopsis is giving the movie... a plot, and that's never been Mortal Kombat's strong suit. Rather than simply having a fighting tournament where a bunch of people try to punch each other to death to see who's the best at murdering people, all the various and disparate Mortal Kombat characters are being given jobs that explain why and how they're all connected. The plot synopsis reads thusly...
In the film, Cole is unaware of his heritage, and why he is being hunted by Outworld's Emperor Shang Tsung’s best warrior, Sub-Zero. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Once he is brought to the temple of Lord Raiden, Cole begins his training with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano. Soon he will stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
This is (unfortunately) giving me flashbacks to the 1994 Street Fighter movie. While Raul Julia's performance in that film has gone down in history, the movie is terrible. There are many reasons the movie is terrible. One of them is that the video game movie about a fighting tournament doesn't even bother to include a fighting tournament, and Mortal Kombat certainly has that movie beat in that regard. Another reason the movie didn't work is the ham-handed way it had to try to justify each video game character's existence in the plot. They weren't simply fighters looking to fight for their own reasons.
The Mortal Kombat Movie's Original Character
The Mortal Kombat movie also does something concerning by introducing a brand new character into the story that has never appeared in the games. The implication is that all the characters we know from the Mortal Kombat games will be familiar with the fighting tournament, but our POV character, Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan, is completely new to the whole thing. It's completely understandable why a character like this is useful, as he creates a plot-oriented reason for explaining all the details of this world and the tournament. The character will need to learn the ins and outs; meanwhile, the audience will be clued in too.
At the same time, if the movie is going to be about Cole Young, then it's not going to be about Sub Zero, or Sonja Blade, or Johnny Cage, or any of the other characters that fans have already connected with. The characters that people know are likely going to become secondary to the core plot focusing on some random dude who probably doesn't even have magic powers or robot arms. Introducing a character who needs the world explained is good way to potentially draw in fans who aren't that familiar with the games. But is there anything that's going to draw non-fans to a Mortal Kombat movie, really?
Yet, I Still Have Hope In Mortal Kombat
None of this is to say that all hope is lost, of course. The trailer itself, as stated looks great. The fight sequences certainly take center stage there, giving us the implication that will be the case in the movie itself. The filmmakers involved certainly seem to know and understand Mortal Kombat. They know what fans will be looking for and they know there will be a lot of unhappy customers if they don't provide it; however, this wouldn't be the first time that a movie trailer promised something and delivered something else, so it's far from a guarantee.
There does need to be a story in the Mortal Kombat movie, I'm not saying this film should literally be just a series of action scenes, I'm just afraid that perhaps the movie may have overthought that story. At the end of the day Mortal Kombat really is just a bunch of people trying to murder each other to win a tournament, and that's all that this movie needs to really be. Just provide a simple reason why each character has entered the slaughterhouse and let the action take care of the rest.
If the Mortal Kombat movie has found the right balance, if it has its focus where it needs to be, if the areas of my concern turn out to be a small part of the movie, and the parts that make it feel like a true Mortal Kombat movie are the most important, then everything should be fine. It won't be the deepest movie ever made, intellectually or emotionally, but it will be Mortal Kombat brought to life, and that's something.