“Mortal Kombat” the video game franchise is a lot of things, but it is absolutely not visually bland. Those games, whether we’re talking about the fights themselves or the story scenes, have flair. They have style. They don’t look boring.
It’s a big shame, then, that while it nails just about everything else, the new “Mortal Kombat” adaptation has all the visual flair of a CW TV show. And that complete lack of style kinda killed the movie for me.
There are moments scattered throughout the film that are definite crowd pleasers, that even made me hoot and holler a little bit. When characters declared their victories after doing something horrible to their foes, it always made me laugh. When Scorpion made his big entrance in the middle of a major battle, I let out an excited yelp. And, yeah, the ultraviolent kills — which echo some of the video game’s fatalities — pleased me greatly.
And then we’ve got Kano (Josh Lawson), one of those terrible people who are extremely fun to watch, and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who strikes the perfect balance between being a major badass and being legitimately charismatic. While the original character Cole Young (Lewis Tan) might be the main protagonist, Sonya is certainly its heart.
But “Mortal Kombat” never let me ride any of those highs. The boring cinematography always sucked the energy out of the room. Moments that should be epic instead feel very matter-of-fact. It was the strangest thing — this movie takes visuals that should be quite striking, and shoots them in almost exclusively the most standard angles so that everything looks flat, and the camera rarely ever pulls back enough to let us really take in the scene.
In other words, it just isn’t very cinematic.
It’s extra frustrating because the rest of the movie works so well. All the actors are operating on the right wavelength, and the tone is the correct blend of cheesy and serious vibes. They put Goro and Reptile in this movie and they’re both pretty sick.
But the presentation is just pointing a camera at the action and filming the people doing it. The things we’re seeing are cool, but they look significantly less cool because of how they’re shot.
When I say “Mortal Kombat” was shot like a TV show, I’m referring to the practice that most shows do to standardize their look so each episode looks the same even though they rotate through directors. So if you watch an episode of, say, “Supergirl,” it’s probably going to look exactly like every other episode of that show and pretty similar to the other shows in the CW’s superhero shared universe.
Unfortunately, the cinematography in “Mortal Kombat” has the same amount of visual flair as one of those CW shows, even though it certainly cost way more money to make. The likely culprit here is director Simon McQuoid’s lack of experience — this is his first feature film after working in commercials. But acknowledging that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. We can only hope he’ll improve with the next one, if they bring him back.
Overall, “Mortal Kombat” is still fun. But the workmanlike camerawork makes sure it never gets to be anything more than that.