Brief Thoughts on a Trailer: Mortal Kombat (2021)


This week has seen a few trailers, between Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Cruella and Mortal Kombat. I could not muster much enthusiasm for the previews of the upcoming Disney film or Snyder’s four hour experience, beyond some virtual chicken scratches that you would find in a bad Chinese fortune cookie. However, Mortal Kombat’s first trailer piqued my interest due to what it means for video game adaptations. Before I get on to my full thoughts, what did you think of the film’s first trailer? Let me know in the comments below.

Brief Thoughts

The trailer for Mortal Kombat has enough ultraviolence to make Alex from A Clockwork Orange, smile. But beyond that is a genuine sense of the filmmakers taking the material seriously. Some notable instances of this quality are the set up of the premise, a pretty nifty bit of set design (the statue of Shao Kahn) and some of the fight sequences.

This aspect can be a sliding scale as the video game property does not lend itself to the most sedate narratives. If there’s one thing that does give me pause about the trailer, it’s a sense of sullen self-seriousness that could sink the entire film.

In this regard, the trailer for the 1995 film does notably beat (pun intended) the current preview’s earnestness with its sugar high goofiness, along with (practically) lifted game audio when announcing the roster of characters.

On the other hand, there’s something nice about not breaking into a fit of laughter when hearing Sub-Zero introduce himself or Scorpion’s iconic line- “Get over here!” And my mouth was agape when seeing Scorpion’s fiery dragon manifestation for the first time. For all my concerns about the film’s tone, the spirit of the fighting game series appears to be intact.

The trailer’s use of violence is also quite interesting. Aside from matching one of the staples of the game franchise, (via the brutal attacks you can inflict upon your opponent called Fatalities) it also serves a purpose. In the trailer’s opening moments, Sub-Zero freezes and crushes an agent’s (Jax) arms. Later on, we see that Jax has metal replacement arms. From that one plot point, the violence in the film seems to have consequence.

At the same time, this aspect made me realise that Mortal Kombat is fairly immune to the central problem of video game based movies. There’s always a law of of diminishing returns when translating video games into movies. Fundamentally, you’re always trading an active experience whereby the player interacts and absorb the story first hand, as opposed to passively watching it. While there’s a thrill with learning and pulling off a Fatality, this feeling can be replicated or even evoked via watching one too.

In this way, a Mortal Kombat film has the same quality as a slasher film, where the audience turn up to see the kills by the antagonist as opposed to the story and characters. Whether the 2021 film coasts on its brutal fight sequences remains to be seen.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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