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This piece was originally published on Discourse Blog on April 28, 2021.
Reader, I’m here today to tell you a story of betrayal and disappointment. A story of promises made, and, ultimately, broken. A story of living, laughing, loving, and also dismembering.
I want to talk to you about Mortal Kombat (2021), and why it needed so much more gore.
Here’s the basic proposition inherent in the Mortal Kombat franchise: two characters are going to fight. Sometimes that character is a magical ninja, or a huge monster, or—in recent iterations of the game—Rambo. Why they’re fighting isn’t important (the actual plot of Mortal Kombat is useless to the point of distraction). What matters is: they fight, and in the end one of them kills the other in a manner so violent, so outrageously over the top, that Tipper Gore passes out on the spot.
That promise of super-duper ultraviolence is the foundation upon which Mortal Kombat—the video games, comics, TV shows, and movies—are based. But to date, only the games themselves have actually delivered on that promise. The previous attempts at bringing Mortal Kombat to the big screen languished in campy PG-13 hell, while the children’s cartoon was … well, a children’s cartoon.
So when that tantalizing promise of gonzo gore was dangled before our (my) bulging eyeballs when Warner Bros. released its first Mortal Kombat trailer, the expectation was that finally we’d be treated to something that could actually deliver on its hard R potential. After all, the trailer offered a rapid-fire glimpse at some impressively gruesome moments: Arms explode! Brainpans are skewered! BLOOD ICE KNIFE! If that’s what’s in the previews, surely the film itself would be even more cartoonishly grotesque, right? Wrong. Instead, for two hours this past Friday, I found myself asking “…okay, is that it?” over and over again.
To be perfectly clear:
1) I enjoyed the film a lot! Neat fights. Cool stunts. Funny dialogue. And …
2) There were some scenes that lived up to the hype. At one point, someone (doesn’t matter who) is fully vivisected by a spinning metal hat (doesn’t matter why). It’s awesome. That‘s the Mortal Kombat I was expected.
Gore-soaked millinery aside, however, the overwhelming majority of the film felt … weirdly tame? Yeah, there was blood and a few fleeting shots of exposed guts, but nothing you wouldn’t have seen in the first season of Game of Thrones, and that shit was a decade ago already.
Unless you’re the sort of person who actually cares about the deep and convoluted narrative mythology behind Mortal Kombat (why?) the whole fun of the franchise is that you have zero emotional attachment to anyone involved, leaving you free to revel in the increasingly burlesque forms of violence they inflict upon one another. Think of it as nihilist Looney Tunes—a playground for gore so extreme that it transcends the limitations of taste, both good and bad, to simply exist as an exercise in excessiveness. Whenever there isn’t exposed bone or unspooled intestines or smoldering, bubbling flesh on screen, all the other characters should be asking, “Where’s the exposed bone or unspooled intestines or smoldering, bubbling flesh?” This is, after all, a video game franchise in which one of the key characters is famous for pulling his opponent’s torso in half, shoving his face through the dripping hole in their chest, and shouting “here’s Johnny!”
Here’s what I’m talking about (warning: it’s, y’know):
Ultimately, what we were given this week was your standard-fare, run-of-the-mill horror-movie level gore. That’s fine. Like I said, I enjoyed it! But did it live up to the promise of matching, if not exceeding, the blood-slicked bar established by a video game franchise famous solely for its egregious violence? Nope! What we got was barely Tekken shit. It’s a promise made, and broken, leaving a hole in my heart that can only be filled by watching characters I don’t care about leave literal holes in one another’s hearts, non-stop, for at least two hours.
I don’t know if there’s going to be a second Mortal Kombat film. It sure seems like they were setting up a sequel when the credits rolled on this one, but who knows. If there is, though, my advice is to make it much more violent, and gory. Here are some ideas I thought of just now:
- A character should kick another character in the crotch so hard that their skull pops off their neck, and explodes in mid-air, showering everyone with pieces of brain.
- Someone should be stabbed to death with their own bones.
- Skin parachute
- Another hat vivisection, but this time there’s more hats. Two hats? No. Three.
- Someone shoves their hand down another person’s throat, pulls them inside out, and then laughs at their gross insides.
- You know that video where the newscaster is stomping grapes, but she falls over and breaks her leg? That, but the newscaster is a Mortal Kombat character, and when she hits the ground she is liquified into a puddle of goo. Also, instead of grapes, she’s stomping on someone’s face.
I could go on.
Please, Warner Bros. executives, make the next Mortal Kombat have more gore. Trust me. This is a good idea.