Mortal Kombat is back in a big way. The new movie, which debuted on HBO Max and in theaters this past weekend, led the way for the strongest week at the box office since cinemas were shuttered last year. And not only was it immensely popular—it kicked up a lot of nostalgic feelings for people who grew up on the video game series. Here, the Ringer staff break down everything we loved (or didn’t) about the new Mortal Kombat and what we’d want to see out of the sequel.
What is your tweet-length review of Mortal Kombat?
Ben Lindbergh: Making a Mortal Kombat reboot without a tournament, Johnny Cage, or Kitana is a bold strategy. But it mostly pays off, if you set your expectations appropriately low for a movie based on button-mashing.
Shea Serrano: If you’re not gonna shout each character’s name when they pop up on the screen for the first time then I don’t wanna watch the new Mortal Kombat with you.
An hour and fifty minutes of #MortalKombat and Raiden doesn’t yell “AYBIBABAYEN!!!”— Oluwajomiloju (@JomiAdeniran) April 25, 2021
Not even once.
Miles Surrey: I’m a simple man: I watch a movie where someone gets sliced in half with a sharp hat, and I like it.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
Surrey: Not only was Hiroyuki Sanada awesome casting for Scorpion, but having him say “I have risen from hell to kill you” in the direction of Sub-Zero (played by The Raid alum and all-around underrated action star Joe Taslim) before setting him on fire made my inner 12-year-old very happy.
Adeniran: Every time Josh Lawson was on screen was a treat, but the scene when Kano asks Liu Kang, “Is that the only move you know?” had me in tears because I can distinctly remember saying the same thing to my roommates in freshman year of college when we played Mortal Kombat to decide who would do the dishes that night.
Serrano: My favorite part of the movie was them using Sub-Zero as pretty much an Ice Terminator. Joe Taslim was really great in the role. My second favorite part of the movie was when Kung Lao turned his hat into a spinning blade saw on the ground and then surfboarded his opponent into it, splitting her in half. My third favorite part was Kano. He was fun.
Sayles: Kano, who was perfect, despite being one of the uglier Aussie stereotypes I’ve seen on screen.
Lindbergh: When Kano says, “Maybe your arcana’s getting your ass kicked by a hat.” Relatedly, when Nitara gets bisected by a hat. John Walker wishes he could do this.
Least favorite part?
Surrey: The existence of Cole Young, family man and milquetoast protagonist. If you’re going to create a new hero in a movie in which he’s surrounded by iconic video game characters, you better do a damn good job with it. (Spoiler alert: That didn’t quite happen.)
Lindbergh: That they didn’t use the remixed techno track until the credits. Why would you waste the signature song that makes my head explode like Reiko’s?
Sayles: Could’ve used more Scorpion, who basically served as Chekov’s kunai when he showed up in the third act.
Serrano: My least favorite part of the movie was that we didn’t get enough Liu Kang, or Scorpion, or Mileena, or Kung Lao.
Adeniran: We need to talk about Jax’s arms. They had Sub-Zero take his arms instead of Ermac like in the games, but I’m willing to overlook that. What I’m not willing to accept is why they had my man looking like pre-serum Steve Rogers with the original arms! I’ve seen wet noodles with more punch than those things. And then he had to “earn them”? Why’d they have to hide away his ability to have super-cool robot limbs like it was part of the DLC? They should have let Jax and his arms be great!
Was it gory enough?
Serrano: Definitely. We finally got our fatalities.
Surrey: LOL, yes. Not sure how much further the movie could go without approaching NC-17 territory. Perhaps they’re saving someone getting their spine ripped out for the sequel.
Lindbergh: According to the director, some scenes came “quite close to the line” between R and NC-17, so I guess it’s as gory as possible. I still wanted to see someone’s spine get ripped out.
Adeniran: It was as gory as it needed to be! I never got the sense that they were overdoing it there and they got some of those fatalities down pat. Kung Lao’s hat acting as a buzz saw and Jax clapping someone’s head to pulp are straight from the games.
Sayles: I should mention that the person who got sawed in half by the sharp hat was sawed in half vertically.
Can this movie appeal to anyone who wasn’t a hardcore fan of the games?
Surrey: With all due respect to Mortal Kombat, this isn’t exactly a complex mythology: Otherworldly contestants fight and die in gruesomely creative ways. As long as a viewer doesn’t mind excess gore, there’s no barrier to entry.
Adeniran: I feel like 50 percent percent of my enjoyment of the film came from understanding all the inside jokes they included. It should still work as long as you come in with the idea you’re watching a movie based on a decades-old video franchise and not Citizen Kane.
Serrano: Absolutely. Except for Sean Fennessey, who, unrelated to all this, I’ve heard is facing 10 to 20 years in prison for Fun Evasion, which is like tax evasion except it’s fun stuff instead of taxes.
Sayles: I think it could actually get some people into the games. That said, I’m not sure I would’ve understood what was happening with, say, Scorpion and Sub-Zero had I not grown up on these games.
Lindbergh: I’m not a hardcore fan of the games and couldn’t care less about Mortal Kombat mythology. I was still entertained, though I wouldn’t have my heart ripped out if we went another 24 years between sequels.
Choose your fighter.
Adeniran: Usually my Mortal Kombat main is Raiden, but he was there to spit exposition and not fight (???), so I got to go with my man Sub-Zero in this one. Making Scorpion bleed, taking his blood and freezing it into a knife in midair, and then stabbing him with said frozen knife blood? Iconic.
Serrano: Scorpion is my longtime favorite-ever video game character. But if we’re talking solely about the movie, then it’s gotta be Sub-Zero first, Kano second, and Kung Lao third. Kung Lao had an extremely high PER in this movie.
Sayles: In the games, Scorpion. In the movie, Sub-Zero. And yes, I’m aware these are the most basic answers one could give.
Surrey: He might be MIA in the reboot, but my heart still belongs to Johnny Cage, king of the crotch shot.
Lindbergh: I’m Sub-Zero. His final battle with Scorpion is basically me and my wife fighting over the thermostat.
Use this space to share your thoughts on Cole Young.
Serrano: I’d rather not.
Adeniran: I love Lewis Tan and I can’t wait to see him do more stuff … but he really didn’t have to be here, did he? We didn’t need Cole to be there for the Cole-Scorpion connection; Hanzo can just show up again because HE’S FREAKING SCORPION! Let’s think about it: a new person to the world of Mortal Kombat that needs to leave his life as a performer to take part in this battle.
Can someone tell me why his character couldn’t have been Johnny Cage? I would have loved to have seen him and Kano trade one-liners.
Sayles: Lewis Tan seems awfully nice, and he’s a handsome guy. And that’s all I really feel comfortable saying, thanks.
Surrey: A friend of mine suggested it’d have been way cooler if Scorpion returned from hell by possessing Cole Young’s body so that we wouldn’t have to deal with him again. I wish my friend wrote this film.
Lindbergh: I think this sentence is more space than my thoughts on Cole Young could fill.
How long do you think you could stomach Kano’s shtick?
Adeniran: Even when you’re on his side, his constant chirping has to be UNBEARABLE. After five minutes, I’d want to put a gnome through his head too.
Lindbergh: About an hour. Which, conveniently, is roughly as long as he lasted.
Sayles: In real life? Ten minutes, tops. In the movies? Sign me up for a half-dozen more Kano spots.
Serrano: For four more movies. He was so much better than the original Kano. I was really surprised by how great he was. And just so it’s clear: I wasn’t surprised because I thought the actor was bad, I was surprised because I had never in my life cared one single percent about Kano. He’s the character I’ve played with the least amount of times in the game.
Surrey: I like hogging all the egg rolls at dinner—so, in other words, not very long at all.
What do you want from the sequel?
Surrey: As a start, maybe a movie based on a once-in-a-generation tournament called Mortal Kombat could actually feature the goddamn tournament!
Lindbergh: I didn’t actually mind that there wasn’t a tournament—the Elder Gods have never cared about combatants breaking the rules, so why should I? It’s not as if they forgot the fight scenes. That said, maybe the next Mortal Kombat should include, you know, Mortal Kombat.
Serrano: I want them to bring Kung Lao back to life. And I want Taslim back as Sub-Zero. And I want more Jax. And I want Timothy Olyphant to play Johnny Cage.
Adeniran: More characters! It was great to see all these video game characters come to life, and Mortal Kombat hasn’t even scratched the surface of its depth. I’d love to see Kitana, Baraka, Ermac, Smoke, and Noob Saibot in the sequel.
And, of course, a TOASTY!
Sayles: It won’t be worth it unless we see a few clips from Citizen Cage.
Lastly: Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat?
Adeniran: I got love for Street Fighter II, but I’ve gotta stay loyal to the first fighting game I sucked at, and that’s Mortal Kombat.
Surrey: Mortal Kombat has a slight edge, if only because I’ll never get its theme song out of my head.
Sayles: I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that, while the original Mortal Kombat soundtrack has gone through a critical reevaluation recently, the music for the 1994 trainwreck Street Fighter features some absolutely iconic tracks.
Serrano: Street Fighter II is for children. Mortal Kombat is for adults. Give me Mortal Kombat.
Lindbergh: Neither. Call me when they make a Super Smash Bros. movie.