So there’s no point in my talking about whether the 2021 Mortal Kombat movie offers any of the rewards of the game — if the venerable old pursuit offered any rewards at all.
But as I watched Mortal Kombat, it struck me that the movie cannot be viewed as a typical live-action feature. Movies such as this stake their claim in the realm of cartoons. If you find genre identification helpful, you might want to think of Mortal Kombat as part of the movie stream that can be classified as sub-comic book.
The violence is exaggerated beyond traditional cartoon standards and director Simon McQuoid and his cohorts include profanities that you’d never find in the older generation of cartoons. But I don’t know how else to see the crushing violence, faux portentousness of the dialogue, the irrelevance of the plot, or the staggering inflation of the performances as anything but flagrant examples of cartoon caricature.
Appreciation here requires that you smile (I did) when a good-guy combatant slices off one of the arms of an evil four-armed opponent or when another combatant uses his metal hands to smash the head of an a foe in the motion used squishing unfortunate flies.
Typical of this inflated genre a supposedly mythic battle rages between good and evil and plenty of characters with exotic names participate: Lord Raiden, Sonya Blade, Scorpion, and Bi-Han, also known as Sub-Zero.
As his name inelegantly suggests, Sub-Zero encases his opposition in ice, but these character could be called almost anything. Fire Belcher, for example, remains unclaimed.
The fights in Mortal Kombat are plentiful if undistinguished. Each of the “good” characters develops a kind of superpower, throwing flaming fire balls or casting laser-like eye beams as the filmmakers accelerate toward a final smackdown.
But here’s the thing: If you watch the movie on HBO Max, you can tune in at any point. It will be clear which of the battlers are good and which are evil, even if you don’t know who they are or why they're fighting.
Not much effort has gone into developing a plot because any such effort would be wasteful. It may be spelled with a “K,” but the point of the movie is combat.
You would lose nothing by approaching the movie as an overblown sampler in which the Earth World, Outworld and heaven knows what other worlds clash, creating a clangor not unlike what we might expect from a drunk beating on kettle drums.
And, yes, these oppositional forces have been battling for eons. What? You think control of all these worlds could be decided in a single lifetime?
I know of no criteria by which Mortal Kombat could be judged a good movie. But, then, as I said, Mortal Kombat recuses itself from even being considered in such terms. It’s a cartoon — albeit one that spouts geysers of blood while playing host to hordes of repulsive villains.
It’s all par for today's movie course, I suppose, but I can’t help wondering whether anyone remembers a time when the cartoons preceded the feature, when they weren't the main event.
Not likely, I think.
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