The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Mortal Kombat’ (2021)

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked 2021’s “Mortal Kombat.”

The info:

The‌ ‌Movie:‌ ‌‌“Mortal Kombat”‌ ‌

Starring:‌ ‌‌ Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson 

Director:‌ ‌‌Simon McQuoid

Plot‌ ‌Summary:‌ ‌‌(From‌ ‌IMDB)‌ ‌MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

Rotten‌ ‌Tomatoes‌ ‌Rating:‌ 54 ‌percent‌

Our take:

Froemming: MORTAL KOMBAT….

Well, kinda. 

Last week, Brown and I watched a movie that was kinda of a remake of another movie. Well, that trend continues this week with a movie we sorta already seen and reviewed before, and once again, the original was much much better.

We watched 2021’s “Mortal Kombat,” a movie which switches tones like Shang Tsung switches appearances in the games. A cast that looks as bored being in the movie as I was watching it. A movie that somehow screws up the premise of a fighting tournament by not even bothering with the actual fighting tournament.

I don't know what this is supposed to be.

Brown, as I fondly remember how good the first 10 minutes of this movie was, and how lousy the rest turned out, why don’t you give us your first thoughts.

Brown: Nothing says Mortal Kombat like revenge plotlines from post-feudal Japan!

I had high expectations for this movie after seeing the badass trailer. 

And, we’d get to see our favorite MK characters from the ‘90s like Scorpion! Sub-Zero! Sonya Blade! And Cole!

… (REDACTED) Cole… *Sigh* Get ready to see this YouTube clip a lot in this review.

Froemming: Hey! Cole’s arcana (the bullshit excuse for the magical powers from the game being in the real world) is a *checks notes* FANCY GOLDEN SWEATER!

Brown: Cardigans and blood-spattered violence are an… odd mix. 

Froemming: Worked for Kurt Cobain.

Brown: … … My words have left me. 

Wow… yeah, lead us off Froemming while I … (REDACTED), I don’t know how we top that.

Froemming: It is 17th century Japan, and one of our legacy characters, Scorpion, is off getting water from a well.

Now, this first 10 minutes or so, I was sold. It was interesting seeing the events of how Sub-Zero turned this guy into a hell-spawn with revenge on his mind at all hours. See, Sub-Zero is from China and travels to Japan to kill his rival gang in … Japan? I know nothing about this sort of history, so I will just trust this movie on that.

And you know Sub-Zero has shown up, because he arrives like winter in the Midwest, snow.

Brown: OK, so this movie takes a little bit before it starts to show off the supernatural powers of Sub-Zero. In that time, it builds up this man, Hanzo Hasashi (the future Scorpion) and his love for his family. As soon as I heard the name Hanzo, I thought this was an origin story for Hattori Hanzo from “Kill Bill.” 

And honestly, this opening 10 minutes works better as the origin story for a guy who makes swords for angry white ladies over a story about (REDACTED) fire-conjuring skeleton ninjas with spears. Hanzo fights Sub-Zero (real name Bi-Han) with a (REDACTED) sword!

This opening 10 minutes is some of the best in this movie as far as developing the plot. The problem is, the plot is so out of left field compared to what you’d expect out of a movie about “Mortal Kombat.” 

Also, we find out that Hanzo’s/Scorpion’s famed spear is a (REDACTED) gardening trowel.

Froemming: We get a solid battle between these two, which is very deceiving as to what is to come. Based on these 10 minutes, I was certain they finally did a Mortal Kombat movie right.

How (REDACTED) wrong I was.

Sub-Zero kills Scorpion and we see him descend into hell. And then Raiden, who is not played by Christopher Lambert for some (REDACTED) reason, shows up to save our garden-tool-weilding’s offspring. 

Brown: Oh yeah, Hanzo’s wife hid a newborn baby under the floorboards like she was the hideous heart from Allison’s diorama of “The Tell-tale Heart.”

Froemming: And now the movie nosedives pretty quickly.

We are in present day Chicago? I think it might be. Kabal later on has a shocking Belushi accent when he speaks, so I will say Chicago.

We meet Cole Young, our avatar basically to this weird world that will come about for the next two hours. He is a MMA fighter who is excellent at getting his ass kicked.

Ninety percent of this movie is Cole getting his ass kicked by random characters. By the end of this movie, I hate him so much that if he shows up in the next “Mortal Kombat” game, it will be the first one I skip out on since 2000. 

Brown: Yep. The “Mortal Kombat” movie from 2021 somehow made a character that was more lame than Stryker. Later, when Cole gets his powers, one of his arms has a baton like Stryker!

Froemming: He gets his ass handed to him, and we meet Jax. He name-drops Eddie Tobias as the last guy who Cole beat, which was a solid easter egg to the creators of the game, Ed Boon and John Tobias. This will be the first and last easter egg I enjoy in this movie.

Jax is interested in Cole’s demonic-looking birthmark, which is the MK logo. Somehow, Cole is not weirded out by strangers showing up in gyms asking him about his birthmark. If this happened to me at the gym, would I be flattered? Sure. Creeped out? Absolutely. I already have social anxiety, so I would find another exit to leave. But not Cole. He is probably not riddled with anxiety in social situations like I am.

Brown: Before this recruitment by Jax goes on, something that still makes me scratch my head.

We get text talking about the Mortal Kombat tournament and how the Outworld realm has won the last nine tournaments. If they win another, then Outworld will conquer Earthrealm. But, there’s a prophecy that the “blood of Hanzo Hasashi” will help prevent this. 

… Wasn’t Scorpion a bad guy in the games? Like, all the games? If I remember correctly, Sub-Zero becomes a good guy in MK3 (and becomes way lamer when the mo-cap actor that played him looked like Jose Canseco instead of a ninja). 

Froemming: Yeah, so in the games this Sub-Zero eventually becomes Noob Saibot, and Canseco is like his good son or something. They kinda revamp Scorpion into a neutral/good character the past three games.

Look, these are really the only video games I play besides “Animal Crossing,” so I know a lot of the MK lore.

Brown: The juxtaposition of you playing only “MK” and “Animal Crossing” is fascinating. 

After getting his ass beat in an MMA fight for $200, Cole and his wife/girlfriend/who cares and their daughter go get burgers. While the adults go inside to order, it starts snowing outside. In July, apparently. 

Sub-Zero arrives and looks to (REDACTED) shit up by *checks notes* hucking snowballs at people?!

Froemming: I chuckled when you told me Sub-Zero was your favorite character, knowing you would have to watch this play out.

Brown: Between the old movies and this one, Sub-Zero is made to look like such a bitch. Sub-Zero’s spine-rip fatality in the original the reason video games have a ratings system!

Froemming: He is also the source of move spamming in games. Because with his freeze and slide, it was infuriating when other kids picked him. You know you were going to lose unless you also picked this chucklehead character.

Brown: Fun fact: the first time I beat the original “MK” was not with Sub-Zero, but with Sonya. By spamming her purple rings attack over and over. 

I did enjoy when she uses that move later in this movie.

Froemming: Jax has Cole and his family head out to Sonya’s trailer, which is not much nicer than Bud’s in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” All these references make me wish I picked those movies instead.

So Jax sticks around to fight Sub-Zero and we get an OK battle where Sub-Zero freezes his arms, smashes them off and kicks him down some scaffolding, leaving him for dead.

*sigh*

Brown: Right? You’re Sub-Zero. Make an icicle and piece Jax’s brain before you leave, just to be sure. 

Then again, Sub-Zero didn’t follow The Queen of Fables’ best advice about villainy when he dealt with Hanzo: End the bloodline.

Froemming: We should mention before this we got a scene from Outworld, where Shang Tsung has his throne outside, which made me laugh because that dumbshit will get drenched when it rains.

We find out he has cheated his way the past nine tournaments and this time will be no different. Which raises the crucial question: Why bother with the tournament then if there is no repercussions for cheating by the Elder Gods? Just attack Earthrealm and be done with it. Hell, Raiden doesn’t even seem to care this guy cheats IN FRONT OF HIS ELECTRIC EYEBALLS! 

Also, Outworld looks so cheap and not creepy like in the game. It looked, frankly, stupid.

Lucky for us, Brown, this movie doesn’t bother with the tournament anyway. 

So, let’s go to Sonya’s trailer, Brown, where one of my favorite characters seems to have missed some of her antipsychotic medications.

Brown: In a world of otherworldly realms, thunder gods and four-armed monsters, we go to Sonya’s hideout in *checks notes* Gary, Indiana. 

So great, “MK” has to take place in Mike Pence’s home state now. 

Sonya is former Special Forces with Jax. With Cole still wondering what the hell was going on, Sonya somehow clears this up courtesy of her Pepe Silvia bunker.

Also in the bunker, chained to a chair is the leader of the Black Dragon Clan and, without question, the best character in this movie: Kano!

Froemming: Yes, Kano is the only fun, charismatic character in this whole dumpster fire of a flick. He cracks wise, all right, at Cole and Sonya when he is revealed. Which raises another question: Why does Sonya have this crimelord tied up in her creepy trailer like he gave her bar a bad review in the newspaper? Again, I feel she is off her medications. 

Brown: I feel bad for Sonya in this movie. Not only does this movie make a point to make her seem like a pawn shop version of Sarah Conner from the “Terminator” franchise, they constantly bring up the fact that she doesn’t have the dragon mark on her, therefore, she is useless to everything going on. Yes, she later “earns” a dragon mark, but she gets dogged on A LOT for about 90 minutes of a 110-minute movie. 

While Cole, Sonya and Kano are in the bunker, Shang Tsung sends out another hit on the Earthrealm fighters in the form of Reptile.

No, not the cool green ninja from “MK2” and beyond. Nope, we get a CGI cousin of Randall from “Monsters Inc.”

At least Reptile’s moment is brief and does lead to Kano ripping out its heart, which was pretty cool to see. 

Froemming: He then ruins it by saying “Kano wins” in the third person like he is Jimmy on “Seinfeld.”

Brown: Kano’s also a moron because he thinks that a person living in what is essentially a junk yard will pay him $3 million to take Sonya and Cole to Raiden’s temple. 

Kano, you didn’t think to ask for some of that money up front? Then you could have seen how full of shit Sonya was? You’re an amusing badass but you are a TERRIBLE crime lord.

Froemming: So they fly to some desert to find Raiden’s temple and wander around until Liu Kang finds them. We find out he has the job of finding Earthrealm’s warriors, and besides picking up Jax, he really does nothing to complete this mission. He basically Gumps his way into finding these three. 

He does shoot a fireball at Kano, which we get a few chuckles out of. The fact Kano keeps calling him Harry Potter gave me some laughs.

Brown: Also at Raiden’s temple is Kung Lao, Liu Kang’s cousin and another of the Earthrealm champions. And it’s here where the two explain the point of training at Raiden’s temple: Finding the champions’ arcana. It’s basically what gives the champions superhuman abilities. 

For Liu Kang, that means conjuring fireballs. 

For Kung Lao, it means he can throw a metal hat!

… Kung Lao was always (REDACTED) lame. 

Froemming: They should have had Stryker in this. Your arcana is THROWING GRENADES!

Brown: Or Kitana. Her arcana was moving fans up and down. 

I’m starting to realize I like “Street Fighter” much more than “MK.” Who wants to keep watching “Mortal Kombat”… or who wants to GO WITH ME!

Froemming: I think we got second-hand coke high when we watched that movie.

Brown: Residual high or not, it was a better watch than this “Mortal Kombat.”

Froemming: That’s not a high bar, pal.

Anyway, we go to some training, which is just sparring I guess. Liu Kang pulls my old arcade spam movie of sweeping people nonstop on Kano. If it worked for fat 11-year old me, it will work for our hero!

Cole, meanwhile, gets beat up by Kung Lao’s hat, which Kano mocks. He isn’t wrong, being beat up by a hat has to be pretty embarrassing, right?

Brown: Yeah… Cole keeps having flashes of Scorpion from hell, asking to release him or something. It’s just a reminder that Cole is just really lame. I kept thinking this was a way of Cole to become the new Scorpion, which could have worked. But no. We’ll get to it later. 

Kano also hasn’t found his arcana, and he’s getting on everyone’s nerves because they’re not as cool as him. But, Kano finally finds his arcana when Liu Kang and Kung Lao bully him and he starts shooting a laser out of his right eye. 

Froemming: They (REDACTED) fat shame him! 

Brown: This movie does a better job of having us empathize with a drug lord and general bad guy like Kano than it does for the loving family man, Cole. 

While all this goes on, Jax is also adjusting to life with metal arms, which start off looking like spare parts from a C-3PO unit.

Froemming: Well, he has tiny arms, but we find out Jax’s arcana makes him a grower, not a shower, Brown. 

Meanwhile in Outworld, Shang Tsung has gathered his hired goons to head to Earthrealm and kill everyone, making this whole tournament business pointless.

His crew includes Mileena, Kabal (who speaks with a thick Chicago accent for some (REDACTED) reason), Reiko (?), Nitara (?) and King Goro. Goro, hard to defeat underboss in the first game, is reduced to being a hitman in this movie. 

Goro was better off as the rubber puppet in the 1995 movie who Johnny Cage punches in the beanbag. No shame in hitting your opponent in the bean bag, according to Ron Swanson.

Brown: I’ll still take this version of Goro over Kintaro. Kintaro was (REDACTED) cheap in “MK2.” He took up half the screen and blocked everything!

Yeah, I also had no idea about Reiko and Nitara. Reiko had a big hammer and Nitara got splayed by Kung Lao’s magic hat. 

Froemming: You think Kung Lao’s magic hat was also the one Joseph Smith used to found Mormonism?

Brown: It would be a smart play for Kung Lao, especially since he gets his soul taken by Shang Tsung. After all, Mormonism is the correct religion.

Froemming: To speed things along, Kabal promises Kano all the Italian Sausage he could ever want and a Mike Ditka autograph to switch teams. This gets the baddies into the temple, where like Brown mentioned, Kung Lao’s magic hat is cool for 30 seconds… 

Brown: Kung Lao’s hat was never cool.

Froemming: …until Kung Lao, to remind us of the (REDACTED) game, yells FLAWLESS VICTORY like a moron for no reason at all. This made me happy that Shang Tsung steals his soul. 

Meanwhile, Cole is protecting his family from Goro, who is reduced from Outworld royalty to probably discussing what hamburgers are called in Europe because he is a Vincent Vega-like hitman in this movie. 

While getting the bejesus knocked out of him, Cole’s arcana comes to light in the form of a fancy golden sweater.

*sigh* I hated this (REDACTED) movie so much.

Brown: Who knew that Cole’s arcana would come from his family like he’s in the cast of “Fast and the Furious.”

Seriously, all Cole gets is a skin-tight golden shirt that looks like it was designed by Affliction. He also gets tonfas, which are the martial arts version of police batons. Again, Cole may as well be (REDACTED) Stryker. 

Also, Cole’s arcana envelops his body from a bracelet that his daughter made him…

With his arcana active, Cole teleports back to Raiden’s temple to fight and fulfill the Hanzo prophecy. After Kung Lao gets his soul taken, Raiden teleports our heroes to the void.

… Why? 

Froemming: WHY? So I can post this song, that’s WHY, Brown.

Brown: I do love that song. 

Oh, forgot to mention that Jax gets his arcana, too. So now his scrawny robot arms become the rippling metal biceps we remember from the game. 

I have no (REDACTED) clue how arcana works. It’s supposed to be a dormant power hidden in these warriors but half the time, it just adds robot parts to the fighters. That’s not unleashing power; that’s just the result of having an R&D department at Raiden’s temple. 

*Sigh* Moving ahead so we can end this review, Raiden teleports all the fighters — both from Earthrealm and Outworld — to battle arenas so they can fight one-on-one. 

Before he does that, he hands Cole Hanzo’s gardening trowel. 

WHY DID YOU WAIT UNTIL NOW TO GIVE COLE THE SCORPION SPEAR?! WHY NOT GIVE IT TO HIM AS SOON AS HE GOT TO YOUR FUCKING TEMPLE?!?!

God damnit, the God of Thunder is clueless.

Froemming: Well, Sonya kills the one character we liked in this movie, Kano. And now, if she is ever asked this by Danzig:

She can say “Yes, yes I do.”

Brown: Question: What did Sonya throw at Kano’s face that disabled his laser eye? It had to be Clear Eyes, right?

Froemming: I thought it was…

Brown: Also, Jax finishes off Reiko by using a wrestling move, the bear paw, and crushing the man’s head with his robotic arms. 

Speaking of wrestling, Reiko was played by former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones, who was picked as the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s worst wrestler of 2003. He earned that honor, folks. 

Liu Kang finishes off Kabal with a flaming dragon fatality, which was kind of cool. 

Froemming: I was hoping he would do his lame twirl kick fatality from the first game. A fatality so pathetic, the screen wouldn’t even go dark when it was pulled off.

Brown: I was kind of hoping for an arcade cabinet to fall on top of Kabal. Liu Kang had some weird fatalities. 

Then, Mileena is killed after an opening from Cole lets Sonya use her purple ring projectiles to pierce a hole through Mileena’s torso. Again, with my personal history with Sonya, I rather enjoyed this moment. 

But, considering they had two people gang up to kill Mileena, isn’t that against the rules of Mortal Kombat? And also, when Shang Tsung comes to Raiden’s temple to kill all of Earthrealm’s champions, isn’t that breaking the rules? The whole point of killing them across the world was to do it discreetly so Raiden wouldn’t know…

Froemming: The rules are summed up as:

So, we come to our epic ending, the showdown between Cole and Sub-Zero that none of us asked for, wanted or even enjoyed. 

Brown: I got real mad when I realized that Cole and Sub-Zero are fighting in an MMA octagon. 

Also, Sub-Zero froze Cole’s family. I don’t care because I don’t care about Cole. 

Now, Sub-Zero draws blood from Cole, who bleeds onto the gardening trowel. This awakens the spirit of Scorpion, who appears with murderous revenge on his mind. 

Now, I think it would have worked better if that blood awoke Scorpion’s spirit and that became Cole’s arcana. I would have been mad that Scorpion became this weiner, but it would have made sense. 

But no, Scorpion is here to remind us all that we could have been watching an infinitely more interesting character. 

Plus, Hanzo/Scorpion speaks to Cole in Japanese and Cole knows exactly what he’s saying… but Cole said he’s an orphan from Chicago. Are we inferring that all Asian people speak Japanese, movie? Be better, “Mortal Kombat.”

Froemming: Well, because there are no rules in this wonky world of Mortal Kombat, Scorpion and Cole team up on Sub-Zero and knock the bejesus out of him. This, I feel, is cheap. And for our main antagonist, Sub-Zero dies a lame death. Yeah it is Scorpion’s fatality, but I was never a fan of it in the arcade. Not enough blood and gore.

Brown: I was laughing since after he burned, Sub-Zero got all ashy like Thanos had snapped him from existence. 

After this fight, I felt real bad for the owner of the MMA gym. That is a LOT of water damage that he’s going to have to deal with. Dude just lost his business. 

Well, the threat is over for now as Shang Tsung retreats, threatening to bring an army with him next time.

So… does that mean Outworld’s win streak is over? The movie doesn’t exactly clear that up. Though I’m sure he could just roll up on Earthrealm any time he wants to because Raiden and the other so-called Gods of our legend don’t seem to care about the rules, either. 

Froemming: There was no (REDACTED) tournament! And I have read the sequel will introduce that. This movie screwed up the basic premise of the game: A fighting tournament. How do you screw up a supernatural kumite?

Anyway, at the end Cole is heading to Hollywood to recruit Johnny Cage, one last reminder we should have had a more interesting character lead this movie. 

Brown, let’s head to recommendations before we humiliate one another with a FRIENDSHIP! 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: No. No this movie was a hot mess. Watch the 1995 one, it at least has some charm to it.

Brown: No. This was one of the more frustrating watches we’ve had on the JOE-DOWN in a while. There’s decent ideas scattered around, and Kano is a lot of fun. But this movie is just stupid.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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