Julien Neaves, Editor
So everybody and their mother have been talking about the new Mortal Kombat movie. Some people love it and some people absolutely hate it. Personally I fall closer to the latter group (my ranking is 3 out of 10 if you’re wondering). Now I thought the opening was good and the final battle was cool but other than that I found the script a paper thin yet overly convoluted mess. The 1995 film is cheesy as all hell but it was still fun and very faithful to the game. This new film feels hollow, undercooked, and changes so many bloody things that it may as well be called Mortal-ish Kombat. Sure we finally get onscreen fatalities in all their gory glory but those alone cannot make up for the giant missed opportunity this film ends up being.
But in the midst of this crap show they actually did justice to some characters. So for this article I will be ranking all the characters based on appearance, actor performance, use in the film, and respect for the source material. And I will be taking it from best down to the worst. With a flaming dragon-sized SPOILER ALERT here are all 16 Mortal Kombat 2021 characters ranked:
I was wondering why the marketing was so heavy on Sub-Zero seeing that Scorpion is the game’s most recognisable character. Then I watched the movie and I understood why—he was not only the main antagonist and “final boss” but of all the villains he gets the most screen time, except for Kano, who was inexplicably a reluctant anti-hero for awhile.
And thankfully Sub-Zero is the one character the film nails perfectly. His back story, costume, and abilities are all spot on. And Joe Taslim delivers so much menace at times he felt like a horror movie villain. Some of the film’s best visual effects and best fight scenes all surround Captain Cold over here. Just don’t tell him I called him Captain Cold. I don’t want to get home and find my bedroom was turned into a winter wonderland.
Sub-Zero may have been the coolest character (pun very much intended) but surprisingly Kano was the most fun fighter. Of all the actors Josh Lawson is clearly having the most fun and his rude, brash, foul-mouthed antics accounts for 95 per cent of the film’s comedy.
He could have taken the highest spot if not the needless backstory changes. For one, they no longer have him killing Sonya’s partner so their iconic rivalry is reduced to a simmering mutual hostility. And him getting his eye beam from his “arcana” (don’t get me started on that) rather than technology as in the games just felt unnecessary. But still the film would be almost completely unwatchable without Lawson’s energetic turn as this despicable mercenary.
#14 Kung Lao
Of all the heroes Kung Lao, descendant of the Great Kung Lao, was my favourite. They captured his video game look perfectly and actor Max Huang delivers the swagger and cockiness associated with the character. And his buzz saw hat fatality on Nitara (which is taken directly from the games) is the most gruesome in the film. Ouch!
Sadly he barely got to do any fighting and then got his soul sucked out by Shang Tsung, so it looks like no sequel for him. Should have sucked out Cole’s soul instead. What a loser.
Scorpion has been my favourite character since I first chose him in the original Mortal Kombat video game. The dude is just distilled cool. And I really liked this version in the film. His look was not exactly game accurate but it was decent enough. And Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (Helix, The Wolverine) does a fine job playing him, especially in the opening sequence.
But old Scorps loses points on a few things. Firstly, he is barely in the film, secondly, that dumb blood descendant summoning nonsense, thirdly, the weird taking-off-the-mask-to-talk thing he kept doing while fighting Bi Han/Sub-Zero, and finally, his iconic fatality felt kinda half-cooked (no pun intended there). Either have the skull or have no skull. That semi-skull thing just didn’t work. But still a promising appearance and when he does return for what seems to be an inevitable sequel don’t skimp so much on his screen time, okay folks.
I thought Jax was cool and Supergirl actor Mehcad Brooks did a solid job of portraying the cyborg military man. But did they have to give him those ridiculous skinny metal arms? It looked weird and stupid. And then using his arcana he apparently added metal and improved technology to his arms. Does his arcana make him a technopath? A metal bender like in Avatar? It looked weird and made little sense. His arcana should have been something simple like super strength and he should have gotten the cool arms from the jump. At least this version was better than the waste version in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
#11 Lui Kang
Ludi Lin as Lui Kang looked like his video game counterpart, if a little younger and slightly less buff. And the costuming was on point. But that performance was just, well, weird. He kept acting like a hippie high on some top grade weed. And for the hero of most of the Mortal Kombat games in the film he felt very much like a side character. And his dragon kick lacked the umph from both the games and the 1995 film. At least his dragon fatality looked cool. I could have done without him saying “fatality” after though. That just felt unnatural.
#10 Sonya Blade
Jessica McNamee looked and acted like video game Sonya Blade but the plot did her a disservice. Again, they removed the reason for her rivalry with Kano which is an integral part of the character. Her fight with Kano was also a bit meh (seriously? Fatality by garden gnome?) and her getting her laser-blasting arcana felt somewhat anti-climactic.
And because there was no Johnny Cage I missed the comedy and charm of their unrequited-love-growing-into-actual-love relationship. The 1995 film did a much better job with Sonya but like Scorpion there is still a lot of potential. Let’s hope she is utilised much better in the next film.
For a God of Thunder and Lightning this version of Lord Raiden just lacked any spark (pun very much intended here). He was just kind of dull, barely had a personality, and seemed mostly there to set up plot devices and deliver exposition. Which is odd, because with the heavily-accented delivery you could barely understand what the heck actor Tadanobu Asano was saying half the time. While I am happy for the diversity in the casting this performance made me miss Christopher Lambert’s wackiness sorely.
As we enter the bottom eight on this list you will notice that all but one of the entries are villains. Other than Sub-Zero and Kano the bad guys in the film ranged from meh to just plain terrible. And four-armed Shokan Mortal Kombat champion Prince Goro falls in the meh category.
And it’s kind of hard to mess up Goro. He’s a huge, strong, arrogant beast that beats people to a pulp, and the film captures his look and his attitude. But why would Shang Tsung send big bad Goro to fight a nobody like Cole “Cole Slaw” Young (thanks to fellow reviewer Wayne Rock for the “cole slaw” nickname)? Talk about overkill. It’s like sending Doomsday to take out Plastic Man. Other than the odd match-up Goro was fine. He came, he saw, he roared, and he got disemboweled.
Former Black Dragon member Kabal had the story, look, and super speed abilities of the video game character. But that accent? What was that? He sounded like he should be ordering pizza after a Boston Red Sox game rather than battling a Shaolin Monk for the fate of the realms. Odd accent aside, Kabal was okay.
And speaking of odd choices, what was up with Mileena’s look? Her whole shtick from the game is that she wears a bright, sexy ninja costume with a mask and then removes said mask to reveal her horrifying Tarkatan mouth. In the film she has no ninja costume and no mask but a dark, leather grunge look and a weird bloody mouth thing like Heath Ledger’s Joker. And then her mouth randomly expands throughout the film for whatever reason. Yeah, this look did not work for me.
At least Sisi Stringer did bring the wild, almost feral nature of the character. Though her sparing Sonya’s life because she lacked the dragon mark felt very much out of character. In terms of back story we get none of it, and you can’t really do that properly without Princess Kitana. So why is Mileena even here? Just to make up bad guy numbers? Next!
I’m just gonna come out and say it—Reptile’s look is just plain ugly. He looks like some kind of weird human dinosaur hybrid. That design should have been left extinct. And I think it would have been cool if we saw Reptile in his humanoid green ninja form and then turn into his full reptilian form. At least they got the invisibility, venom, and long tongue abilities correct. I guess that’s something.
Of all the Mortal Kombat characters this Outworld warrior is decidedly lower tier. I remember playing him in Mortal Kombat 4 and he was pretty forgettable. And he’s pretty forgettable here too as a generic tough guy for Jax to fight and head smash. No personality, no back story, no interest. Just show up, fight, and get killed. Other than the large hammer film Reiko could be anyone.
The vampiric Nitara had the look but she got what we call in Trinidad a “corbeau sweat”. You know in a football match where a player spends most of the game on the bench, gets to play for a few minutes, and then has to go back on the bench? That’s a corbeau sweat. Nitara swoops in, flies around a bit, and then gets sliced in half. Seriously? That’s it? I mean, Nitara isn’t the most popular character, but even she deserved better than this.
#2 Shang Tsung
I hated this version of Shang Tsung. He was just dull as dishwater and had no presence, gravitas, or even an iota of menace. And it didn’t help that the lines were clunky and unwieldy, but that could be said about most of the dialogue in this film. Actor Chin Han feels like he is cosplaying as the diabolical Outworld sorcerer and just reading lines. He really feels like he is phoning it in here.
And while we see this Shang Tsung use his soul-sucking ability he never once shape shifts, which is his trademark move. Why leave that out? Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was a thousand times better than this version, and for the next film they need someone to embrace the over-the-top, scenery-chewing nature of the character.
#1 Cole Young
Remember when I said all but one of the bottom eight were villains? Here’s the one. Cole freaking Young! Where do I even start. What about the fact that the games have more than 75 characters including multiple heroes who could have served as protagonist. Why invent a new character? And you could argue that Cole is the audience surrogate in this fantastical world, but they could have used either Sonya or Jax for that.
And besides having nothing to do with the game (other than a forced connection to Scorpion) the main problem with Cole is just how bland he is. The dude barely has a personality, yet has to carry the entire film. Thankfully Josh Lawson’s Kano was there to pick up the massive slack and keep the whole thing from collapsing under the weight of Cole’s ineptitude. Every scene with him felt unnecessary and sucked the energy out of the room. And his arcana being a budget version of Black Panther’s energy-absorbing suit was just stupid. I didn’t care about him, his bland family, nor his lame hero’s quest. The best thing they could do is off him at the start of the next film.
So that’s my list. Which MK 2021 character is your favourite? Which is your least favourite? For Senior Writer Sommer’s review of the film you can click here. Or for her review of the animated film Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.