Writing Tips and Film Critique

Mortal Kombat (2021) and Where It Fell Down

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)!!!

Ready to read? Okay, here we go.

In terms of action and fighting, Mortal Kombat (2021) is an okay movie. In terms of everything else, though, it ranges from inconsistent to plain bad, not the fun sort of bad, like 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, but the plain bad that makes me think that the director took a far too serious approach where it probably shouldn’t have been taken. I mean, the script definitely could’ve used some script doctoring, if only to remove obvious inconsistencies such as Raiden telling Shang Tsung that his fighters attacking Raiden’s fighters before the tournament was forbidden then Shang Tsung responding that fighting outside the tournament isn’t illegal, which is pretty much dialogue that goes like this:

Raiden: “Attacking my fighters is forbidden before the tournament.”

Shang Tsung: “No, it’s not.”

This is essentially the writer not even establishing the rules that will be followed in the narrative; it’s the writer basically saying, “Screw it. We need the action to happen.” This is bad writing. If there are going to be rules, then those rules should be followed. This is a point in which Mortal Kombat (1995) was actually superior. Early in that film, Shang Tsung is about to allow Scorpion and Sub-Zero to attack Raiden’s Earthrealm fighters, but Raiden blasts the colored ninjas before reminding Shang Tsung that this isn’t allowed, to which Shang Tsung responds that it won’t happen again. In other words, Shang Tsung is trying to cheat, but when he’s caught, even he has to acknowledge the rules and follow them.

Mortal Kombat (2021) doesn’t accomplish this, and neither does it accomplish showing Raiden as really using his power to protect his fighters. Sure, he sets up a bubble shield within his temple that they all live in while they train, but Raiden doesn’t show his fierce power. I mean, at the end of the film, he uses his lightning to send Shang Tsung back to Outworld. Of course, when Raiden did that, my first thought was, “Why didn’t he do that in the first place? Why didn’t he send Shang Tsung, Sub-Zero, Mileena, and anyone else attacking his fighters before the tournament back to Outworld?” That just didn’t make sense.

By the way, there is no tournament in this movie. The events of the film happen before the tournament is to take place, as Raiden’s fighters gather and train, and in this lies the biggest problem I have with this film: Their training didn’t lead to them coming out the other end showing any real progress or improvement in terms of character development.

The basic idea behind the training is that each of the Earthrealm fighters, who are marked with a dragon tattoo to show that they have been chosen, must discover how to unleash their special power.

As an aside, I have to say how terrible of an idea the dragon mark is. The rules behind the mark is that a person is born with the dragon mark to show that they’ve been chosen, since birth, to fight in the Mortal Kombat tournament. However, the movie throws a bit of a curve ball (or maybe I should call it a wonky pitch) by attaching a rule that states that if a person with the mark is killed, then the person who did the killing will receive the mark. I say this is a terrible idea because what if you have a great fighter, who has the mark, who is just about to fight in the tournament before some drug addict guns him down to steal his wallet. Now, you’d have the drug addict with the dragon mark, and they would be fighting in the tournament, even though they lack any fighting skills to speak of. It’s a really bad rule, but there’s a reason this rule was attached, and it has to do with Sonya Blade.

To start with, Sonya doesn’t carry the dragon mark. Her partner Jax does carry it. The MMA fighter they bring into their fold, Cole, has the mark as well. Kano, the mercenary Sonya and Jax captured, also has the mark. So, as the group finds Raiden’s temple to begin training, Sonya is left out of the training, because according to Raiden, if someone doesn’t have the mark, then they can’t access special powers, and anyone without special powers is a liability to the team.

As another aside, think about that in terms of messaging. As a writer, I’m always thinking about what my stories are saying and why – the messages within the stories – and I’m sorry to say this (no, I’m not), but it’s a horrible message to deliver to the audience that unless you have special powers, you are a liability. Contrast that with the message in Mortal Kombat (1995) in which the Earthrealm fighters are shown to be out of their league, not having the special powers of the Outworld fighters, but are encouraged by Raiden telling them, “You can overcome any adversary no matter how bizarre their powers may seem; there is always a way. The only thing that can defeat you is your own fear.” Think about that message and how you can look at the challenges in your own life and feel that Raiden is encouraging you to find a way to overcome those challenges no matter how overwhelming they may appear. That’s a wonderful message in Mortal Kombat (1995), and it’s a message that is absolutely missing in Mortal Kombat (2021). Instead, we’re told, “If you’re not already special, don’t bother trying.”

This horrible message is actually reinforced with Sonya Blade not having the dragon mark, at first. Now, a competent writer would’ve asked, “Since Sonya is missing the mark, and isn’t allowed to participate in the training, how can I put her on a path that sees her earning her spot as an Earthrealm warrior even without the mark?” That would be a great opportunity to show some real progression with the character.

But that’s not what we get.

Instead, Kano turns against the Earthrealm fighters, joining the Outworld team, eventually fights Sonya, and Sonya kills him. When this happens, Kano’s mark transfers over to Sonya, which leads to another inconsistency in the writing of this film, when in the very next scene, after receiving the mark, Sonya unleashes her special powers without having trained at all.

It really doesn’t matter, though, in the context of the film, since none of the Earthrealm fighters discover how to unleash their special powers while training, even though that’s specifically what training is supposed to do for them. Instead, each of the fighters unleashes their special powers simply by becoming angry enough.

Yes, you read that right.

And yes, watching that sort of thing unfold before my eyes was a total disappointment.

And there’s actually another inconsistency when the first of the Earthrealm fighters, Kano, unleashes his special power for the first time. While everyone sits down for a meal, Liu Kang and Kung Lao badger Kano over his failings in their early training sessions. They tell him that his anger is holding him back. They call him weak and say other things that get Kano so riled up that he unleashes a laser beam from his eye. In other words, they tell Kano that his anger is holding him back but then make him so angry that he unleashes his special power, meaning that Kano was holding himself back from getting angry enough? It really just doesn’t make sense.

And that’s how each of the fighters, except Sonya, unleashes their special power: They come to a point in which they get angry, and the power just manifests. That’s all. No one really learns anything or discovers anything about themselves or develops as a character in their journey to access a power that will aid them in saving the world.

Yes, I’m going to say it.

Power Rangers (2017) is a much better written film than Mortal Kombat (2021). Heck, even Mortal Kombat (1995), which is pretty bad in its own right, is better executed than Mortal Kombat (2021), and in some ways, dialogue aside, is even better written. I mean, at the end of Mortal Kombat (2021), when Shang Tsung’s fighters have been defeated and Shang says to Raiden, “This time I brought fighters; next time, I will bring armies,” I wondered why he would say that when he hasn’t even fought the tournament yet. You’d think Shang would say something more along the lines of, “You only defeated my weakest fighters; the strongest ones I will put forth in the tournament, and then you will witness just how weak your humans are, as you have in the tournaments that came before.” Remember, this movie takes place before the final tournament between Outworld and Earthrealm to decide whether Outworld will have the right to invade Earthrealm, so why would Shang be talking about bringing armies when he should be reminding Raiden that Outworld has won every tournament against Earthrealm up to this point?

And that’s another way in which this movie falls down: Why even bother attacking Raiden’s fighters before the tournament? Think about it. Before the tournament, they can team up and fight with each other and as a group. In the tournament, they have to fight alone, against whoever Outworld matches against them, and seeing as how Sub-Zero is shown as so powerful (even more powerful than Goro) that it took two guys fighting him at the same time to finally take him down, you’d think Shang would just lean on Sub-Zero and let him win the tournament for Outworld.

Really, one of the Earthrealm fighters, Cole, actually quit during training. You’d think Shang would just let him go and not send Goro after him and his family (which is what makes Cole angry enough to unleash his special power). Remember, Shang should be focused solely on those fighting in the tournament. Once Cole is out, Shang shouldn’t bother with him anymore. Also, sending Goro after Cole was another missed opportunity in character development. I know it would’ve meant one less action scene, but I feel Cole could’ve learned something about himself if leaving the tournament training ate away at him and spending time with his family again gave him a reality check of what he would be losing if Outworld wins the tournament and invades Earthrealm, making Cole feel like it is his responsibility to stand up and stand with the Earthrealm fighters in the tournament. That should’ve led to Cole calling out for Raiden to take him back, and then Raiden appearing and taking him back to the temple. Again, there’s no action scene in my version of how these events should’ve played out, but we would’ve gotten a character reflecting on himself and what it is he would be fighting for.

The lack of character development in Mortal Kombat (2021) is so disappointing. Even Mortal Kombat (1995) has some bit of development that allows us, at the end of the film, to see that our characters have grown to become more than what they were at the start of the film. By the end of Mortal Kombat (2021), Cole hasn’t changed. Jax hasn’t changed. Sonya hasn’t changed. Liu Kang, a huge disappointment, for me (since I’m a big Liu Kang fan), doesn’t change even after the death of Kung Lao. No one learns anything. No one really discovers anything. No one makes any sort of progression through the film. The characters are just there, things just happen, and they have fights, and that’s all.

You can tell me that I shouldn’t have expected more from a movie based on the Mortal Kombat franchise, but I wouldn’t have expected more if Mortal Kombat (1995) hadn’t set a bar, however low, that this movie, for whatever reason, just couldn’t seem to reach.

2 thoughts on “Mortal Kombat (2021) and Where It Fell Down

  1. This is a really awesome review. I was on the fence about watching it, but a have a great idea f what to expect, which is very much appreciated. Hugs and more hugs, RO

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