Defending Mortal Kombat—It Has Begun!
New Line Cinema announced in January 2022 that Mortal Kombat is getting a sequel! I know that the impulse is to react with fear and trepidation. Who could blame you, right? I mean, look at me writing an article defending Mortal Kombat while there are countless Tweets, Posts, blogs, and memes that tell us how bad the 2021 movie was… right?
Well… not exactly. Mortal Kombat actually wasn’t a flop at all. Quite the opposite in fact. The reboot grabbed the number 1 spot at the box office when it opened in 2021. Not only that but here we are a year later and it is still ranked among the most popular feature films on HBO Max. Add in that it currently has a solid 86% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes and you have what should be a celebrated video game adaptation.
Why then does the idea of a sequel get such a guttural response? The brutal truth is that many critics and more importantly too many fans of the video game franchise deemed the Mortal Kombat reboot a failure before the opening credits ever started. Why is that?
Far from a Flawless Victory
We need to dissect a combination of factors including cultural response and technical follow through to answer that question. Let’s make it easy by going over the technical aspects first. The two most frequent complaints are that the film forced a new Protagonist with no ties to the broader licensed universe and that the wonky dialogue teetered on melodrama. Both are valid points and truth be told both stick out like a sore thumb.
For the very brave of you out there I challenge you to delve down the Twitter rabbit hole and search for favorable responses to the 2021 reboot because they are few and far between. Spend an hour online and you will come away with the impression that this is the most disastrous movie of all time. A movie that warrants burning of the negative and banishment for all those involved in its creation. That brings me to the crux of why the most vocal fans of the franchise deeply disliked the reboot… The cultural response.
I’m defending Mortal Kombat, Now Get Over Here!
To understand how the cultural response impacted Mortal Kombat there must be a radical acceptance of what I’m about to say. Brace yourself… We live on a planet full of self-important… humans. It’s alright. We all own a little self-importance. It’s not even a bad thing per se. A little confidence can go a long way but in this day and age of social media where EVERYONE can be a critic, self importance tends to get in the way of our ability to see past our own witty quick takes. This is at an epidemic level in Fandom Culture though. If we can all come to terms with the fact that our need to tear something down frequently gets in the way of our ability to build things up, then the rest of this article should be far less painful.
Beyond the films technical flaws, the loudest reason why sections of the fandom hated this movie is made clear in just a few statements.
“That’s not how I would have done it.”
“I would have done it this way…”
“They should have done it like this…”
Statements like these are key to unlocking the mystery of why someone HATES something that they LOVE. They love it for what it WAS when it was new. They hate it for what it’s NOT and will never be again.
Mortal Kombat is a vast Universe of characters, rich in lore and story. It spans decades and has influenced decades of video games and movies. Who among you hasn’t watched with baited breath for the carnage that follows the phrase “Finish Him!” This is the beauty of fandom.
Test Your Might!
I’ve made things awkward by insulting half of the people reading my attempt at defending Mortal Kombat. I apologize. It’s a necessary step for us to expose the wounds so that we can heal as we hit the premise of this article together. I will say it loud and proud; I enjoyed the reboot. Was it perfect? NO. Did it have flaws? YES. Was it “How I would have made it?” NOT AT ALL! Did it make me happy? ABSOLUTELY!
At the end of the day, the Mortal Kombat reboot did what it was made to do. It took a 30-year-old Video Game franchise with a dead filmography and it gave it life anew. Complete with exploding heads, fan favorite characters, cool fight scenes, and a few new elements to chew on. It was a throwback martial arts movie based on a make-believe world where things like Animalities and Babalities exist in perfect harmony with Brutalities and Fatalities. This is a world NOT meant to be taken seriously. Its sole purpose is to just be enjoyed for what it is. Despite the wonky acting, even with the forced protagonist, and possibly because of the tweaks in the lore, Mortal Kombat achieved exactly what it was supposed to. It made me happy to be a fan.
I’m sure I read this in a fortune cookie once, and it speaks volumes here. “If you go looking for reasons to be unhappy, you will find them but if you search for happiness, you’ll find that as well.”
At the end of the day isn’t that what we all want from our fandoms? To feel the joy of simply experiencing it. Whether it be movie, television, books, or music… don’t we just want to love it?
I have another challenge for you. (Assuming you survived the Twitter challenge that is.) Re-watch Mortal Kombat, but this time view it through the same lens that made you so devoted to the franchise in the first place. See it again for what it is. Not for what you wished it was. Because if the sight of seeing Sonya Blade stab Kano in the eye with a garden gnome doesn’t bring you pleasure… nothing will.
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