Hollywood seems to have a love/hate relationship with video games. Studios love to make video games into movies, while audiences generally hate to see those films. Only five movies based on video games have cracked the vaunted $100 million line at the U.S. box office, and two of those — Sonic the Hedgehog and The Angry Birds Movie— were films aimed squarely at the kids’ market.
The first Mortal Kombat movie, released in 1995, grossed $70 million, while its 1997 sequel drew only half that. Yet, 24 years later, Warner Bros. is rolling the dice, betting that the time is right for a reboot of the series. Indeed, the video game series is still going strong, with the latest title, Mortal Kombat 11, selling more than 8 million copies worldwide. But there’s a big difference between a successful video game and a successful movie.
In a video game, plot holes are excusable. After all, the player is part of the action, and only the best gamers are able to execute the games’ storylines perfectly. With most players caught up in a looping cycle of trial and error, it becomes very, very easy to overlook a game’s mistakes. The same can’t be said about films. When you’re a passive observer, these shortcomings become glaring, and they’re often enough to sink a film’s chances.
That being said, there’s not much that’s new or interesting about the story of the new Mortal Kombat film and, at times, the plot seems like it was stitched together to support the game-like CGI sequences the filmmakers wanted to create. So the script feels like it’s loaded with clichés, while characters are underdeveloped and — in the case of some of the franchise’s most beloved characters — underutilized.
Those CGI sequences, as you can imagine, are generally a treat for the eyes, rendered in vivid color and detail. At times, you may get the feeling you’re inside the game itself. But without an emotional connection to the story, the CGI just serves as a reminder of what could have been, had the scenes been placed in a film where the story is better and the stakes are higher.
The cast includes some good actors, many of whom are accomplished in the martial arts and turn in some good moves, but they too feel underutilized in a film that’s dominated by CGI creations.
Ultimately, Mortal Kombat is all about expectations. If you watch the movie looking only for the kind of violence and visual spectacle you’d find in the video game, you’ll probably be entertained for a couple of hours. If you’re looking for any more, you’ll probably consider it time wasted. Either way, the movie has a disposable feel to it — especially since a majority of viewers will likely be streaming it at home — and unlikely to rekindle long-term interest in the Mortal Kombat movie franchise.