How to Improve “Mortal Kombat” (2021)

I’ve been reviewing movies for almost five years now in spite of the fact that I’ve never made a movie, nor have I ever gone to school for any kind of film art. I do however consider myself a competent judge of story and artistic merit to an extent and my love for film has evolved over the years from a more casual viewer into one that respects what it takes to create a film good. One of the things I get asked a lot is if I don’t like a movie then how would I make it better. Recently I was presented this challenge with nonother than Warner Bros. and HBO’s latest movie “Mortal Kombat” and while I can’t say I HATED this film it wasn’t exactly what I hoped for or felt it could have been. So, taking on this challenge I set out to right the wrongs of the filmmakers to put my own spin on the story and examine what changes I would have made to make it better which eventually inspired me to create a whole new feature for this blog. So today I’m going to step up and try to improve this video game adaptation looking at how I would have changed the plot and narrative to make this less of a video game turned into a movie and more of a movie properly inspired by a video game. This is how I would improve “Mortal Kombat” 2021. Also just to cover by butt and this should go without saying but a HUGE Spoiler Alert because I’m going to examining this movie’s plot in detail.

When looking at how I would improve movies like “Mortal Kombat” I’m not taking into account casting, acting or script. A lot of those things can make even the worst written story shine. Instead, I’m looking at the narrative and how this film builds itself into a cinematic experience. By looking the general framework of the current film, what would I have changed to make the experience as a whole more enjoyable and watchable? One of the fatal (pun intended) flaws of “Mortal Kombat” is that it tries too hard to fit the basic ideas from the game into a movie while failing to provide a proper story around these concepts to make it feel like an actual film. The movie does well to provide the one-on-one fight scenes and fatalities we’ve become accustomed to from the games but does so without real reason or proper establishment of threats or even the titular competition itself. It’s more focused on giving fans what they want and not what they need to make those wants worth experiencing. The one thing it DOES give us that works on both of those levels though is the rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero which sets up the two best parts of the movie, the beginning and the end. I argue that one simple change that could have been made to improve this film overall is to make this movie more about this rivalry and better build around it as the central crux of the narrative and Cole’s journey.

While not everyone appreciated it, I’m actually okay with having a new character included in the film. It would have been difficult to find one specific character to shine the spotlight on from the game’s canon properly without making the rest of the cast feel underutilized so putting an original character in the film to serve as the audience meeting these iconic fighters for the first time was a smart choice I would keep. But this does not mean Cole has to say a non-canon character. One of the major elements of Cole is that he is a descendant of Scorpion, although he doesn’t know about his clan’s bloody demise, and that Sub-Zero is out to get him. What if, instead of bringing the Scorpion from the start of the film back from the dead Cole took up the mantle, something many fans felt was what the movie was hinting at for a long time. I feel there is a way this could have been done that could have improved the movie as a whole and would have made Cole a more relatable and memorable character as well as elevating everyone else around him.

So, let’s begin with the start of the film. We see Scorpion’s entire clan killed by Sub-Zero and the two engage in a bloody brawl ending with Scorpion’s death before he is dragged to hell and Raiden rescues Scorpion’s last living relative, a daughter and Cole’s direct ancestor. That intro is perfectly fine and sets up the rivalry to come. Fast forward many years to when we meet Cole. He’s still a fighter but is a bit more competent. He’s not just a loser, but he fails due to his focus on brute force than balance in his technique. He still has the Kombat tattoo, but, because this is a movie and we can do whatever, let’s say that his tribe’s symbol was that of a scorpion and he has carried that animal with him in one form or another from his childhood as his relatives had so lets give him another tattoo, a scorpion one. He still has a daughter and wife but…I think there’s a controversial way this movie could have used this to its advantage. We’ve established already through the opening scene that this movie is willing to take chances and kill off anyone, adult or child…so let’s take it a step farther.

We’re shown Shang Tsung preparing for Mortal Kombat and we are introduced to Sub-Zero who, in the original movie, is implied to be a still-living Bi-Han. Let’s make this even clearer in the new version and have him as an undead immortal serving Tsung from granting him the ice powers he used to complete his “destiny” and kill Scorpion’s clan. He now serves Tsung as repayment. Tsung decides to use Sub-Zero to hunt down the Earthrealm fighters before Mortal Kombat can begin, another element of the original movie I enjoyed to an extent. Tsung senses that Cole is the weakest on Earth and is most vulnerable so he sends Sub-Zero after Cole and, as he did with Scorpion, Sub-Zero succeeds in killing Cole’s wife and child. Immediately Cole now has stakes and a reason to get involved in the story other than a random attack and a deus ex machina arrival from Jax. Cole, filled with and driven by rage like Scorpion before him and who has long embraced a more brutal and less technical fighting style, goes after Sub-Zero who, during the fight, notices a scorpion tattoo on Cole and nearly kills him. Jax, who already has his metal arms by this point because why not, and Sonya rescue him and flee leaving Sub-Zero alone who realizes that Cole’s tattoo might mean a member of Scorpion’s tribe survived. Suddenly Sub-Zero’s motives are clearer now as well and he has failed Tsung for the first time.

At this point we learn that Sonya and Jax are trying to recruit the Kombat players and we’re going to keep Kano as a person who killed one of the champions Sonya was looking for because the Kano we got was the BEST thing about the movie. You can even keep the Reptile scene as Tsung sending in a new fighter to get the job done after Sub-Zero failed, adding to the warrior’s rage. With their hiding place discovered Sonya and Jax meet up with Liu Kang and Kung Lao and go to Raiden’s location where we discover these fighters have been recruiting and searching for their champions for some time. Sonya, while not a champion herself, was hired to help her former soldier partner Jax with the search giving her more justification for being there. As we get to the middle part of the film, we see Cole and the other’s training and earning their powers, but Cole can’t seem to get his because he’s blinded by the rage he has against Sub-Zero which Raiden tries to help him control. Still, with Kano’s help thanks to a promise of power from Tsung like what he offered Sub-Zero, we see Tsung invade Raiden’s hideout like before with almost the same cast but I’d switch out one character specifically: Mileena for Kitana. Kitana has a much more complex story in the games that could be explored in sequels. She even defects to the good guys which I will include in my version of the film. The movie only gave us a hint at Kitana’s existance with a brief shot of a blade fan but making her an actual character sets up Mileena for a future movie and gives us one of the most famous characters in the game’s canon on screen. We can show her throughout the movie being less subservient to Tsung as the story progresses and there could be a lot more character development on her end.

I would still keep the teams showdown in the middle of the movie and yeah I’d keep Kung Lao’s epic fatality. But I’d makes a few changes here as well. I would keep the Goro-Cole fight but this time with no family to protect this is merely Tsung trying to take out Cole with Goro and rid themselves of the easiest target. This fight gives Cole a chance to center himself and realize he needs to control his anger and be smarter if he is going to win. Instead of some stupid body armor he gets the ability of fire like Scorpion, his tribe’s sacred element, hinting at what’s to come. After Kung Lao kills Nitara like in the original version we still have Tsung kill him basically saying “I’m done with these games” and taking matters into his own hands making the fighters realize they are truly outmatched but also sparking Raiden to intervene after one of his fighters is directly killed by Outworld’s training master. This is where Kitana makes her change as well. We show her saving several of the heroes before Raiden transports everyone away like in the original version only this time he fully justifies it by saying that since Tsung is making up his own rules he must too.

Finally, we get the split up like we did in the original film but this time things are handled a bit differently. The decision to separate everyone is made by Kitana who provides insight into Tsung’s strategy. They’re all individual fighters and that taking them on all at once is like fighting raging bulls and is pure chaos…if one of them doesn’t kill you another will. Subverting the usual “we have to be a better team than them” trope of film instead they split up the bas guys and fight one-on-one matching up fighters with the particular weaknesses of the villains. For example Jax’s arms can fight off Reiko’s mallet and Sonya’s cool head outplays Kano’s ego and recklessness. As a result, the video game-like one-on-one fights feel more organic. However, because Kitana is on their side now Cole doesn’t fight Mileena. Instead Cole has Kitana to bring him to Sub-Zero as she knows his hideout’s location having previously worked for Tsung. Sub-Zero, now hungrier than ever to complete his decades-long destiny, accepts Cole’s challenge on the frozen battlefield of his own making. Cole, once again overwhelmed by his rage, is unable to properly channel his powers to win until Sub-Zero taunts him with how he killed the original Scorpion and he will now finish the job. You can bring the original Scorpion back briefly to bestow his powers on Cole or have Cole have his “leveling up” moment where the scene pictured above features him becoming the new Scorpion and taking on Sub-Zero with a newfound focus and skill. Cole, having learned that in order to win he has to balance his range and his calm together and be smarter, uses his tribe’s signature weapon, a Kunai and chain, as well as his hellfire powers defeats Sub-Zero after an evenly matched fight. The champions regroup, Tsung says he will be back and, as with the original movie, the heroes go in search of Johnny Cage, the final champion on Earthrealm while Cole carries on his family legacy as the new Scorpion.

While I acknowledge that this treatment still has its holes and flaws, I feel that these changes could have made for a more cohesive, better paced and more character-driven film that still gives fans the fatalities they crave and incorporates elements of the games in a more logical manner. By making Cole the new Scorpion by the end of the film we put the rivalry between the character and Sub-Zero more to the front and better establish his journey and growth as a warrior. By swapping out certain characters and slightly changing existing ones and where they fit into the story this band of champions feels like a more united group that could believably hold the fate of their world on their shoulders. As it stands, the 2021 “Mortal Kombat” movies is simply okay as it does what it set out to do but never really strives to be anything more than what it is, a jumble of video game mechanics forcefully fit into a sloppy story. It’s the same mistake a lot of video game movies have made and while some succeed better than others “Mortal Kombat” really could have and should have been that perfect marriage between two mediums. But these are just the changes I would have made to help improve this movie as it sits today. Let me know what changes you would have made to improve the “Mortal Kombat” film in the comments. I hope you all enjoyed this read and if you did also let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll make more of them in the near future.

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