It was a game that launched a new generation of video games. It would go on to spawn several less than stellar movies and tv shows even though the 1995 movie would gain a cult like following. The fans cheered the announcement that the franchise would reboot on the big screen. The original showed so much promise, so a reboot couldn’t help but be amazing. Every clip and trailer for this new movie looked amazing, but then the pandemic hit and we had to wait. Well, the wait has ended and Mortal Kombat 2021 now streams on HBOMax and shows at your local movie theater, but how good is it? Does it add up to the 1995 version, or does this new version score a flawless victory? Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995, who wins? Ready. Fight!

Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995 – Character Usage and Development

The overall list of characters remains pretty similar between the two versions. Both use Rayden, Lui Kang, Sonya, Shang Sung, Scorpion, Subzero, Reptile, Kano, and Goro. The 1995 version used Jonny Cage where the 2021 version uses a new character named Cole Young. The new version also added Mileena, Reiko, Kabal and a winged minion I’m not familiar with, so it becomes quite easy to compare the two since the personalities should line up.

Let’s face it. Overall the acting sucked in the 95 version. Either the actor overacted the part or couldn’t act. In 2021, not much has changed. The cast of the new KM also fall completely flat for the most part. Josh Lawson doe okay as Kano. Some of his quips work pretty well, but Jessica McNamee comes off flat. She shows no chemistry with any of the other actors. All of the other actors do their parts, but none show any real signs of life and their performances come off dry and emotionless. Mehcad Brooks does better than his previous counterparts as Jax, Hiroyuki Sanada does a fierce role as Scorpion (best performance of the movie), and Joe Taslim comes off cold and heartless, but he’s Subzero – duh.

The 95 crew may have sucked at acting for the most part but they had a flare and gave off an aura that gave their roles personality. Chris Lambert and Cary-Hiroyui Tagawa gave over the top performances as Rayden and Shang Sung. Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage brought an adorability to his stuck up snob of a character. His one liners came off flawlessly. Love them or hate them, you remember the 95 cast. Here only Scorpion and Subzero stand out.

Advantage – MK95

Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995 – Movie Design?

Scorpion and the fires of hell

The special effects of the ’21 version are incredible. For a fairly cheap budget of $95 million they did an amazing job. All of the costumes looked good. The characters looked real, yet maintained parts of their traditional looks. The CGI came off great as well. We knew Subzero’s effects looked good from the trailers, but both Goro and Reptile looked amazing. They moved well and were designed well. This is the one part of MK21 that I find no fault with. Even the backdrops flashed back to the backdrops from the games from time to time.

MK21 holds the advantage here, but at the same time it’s not a fair comparison. Tech changed so much over the years that this ends in a DQ. The fatalities were much cooler in MK21 to be sure. Kung Lao’s fatality especially, but given the advanced tech and the R rating this isn’t surprising. All of the other fatalities seemed cool, but lacked the appropriate ‘edge’ to them.

Here is the one thing that I’m not sure how to grade – music. MK95 used much of the game sound plus a little extra techno for its flavor. MK21 revamped the soundtrack from the original, and it sounded amazing. I looked forward to hearing it in action. Just one problem – I couldn’t. MK95 blared the music loud and featured it front and center. The music and themes were so soft in MK21 that I could rarely hear it. What good does a great soundtrack do if you have to focus to hear it? Music scores end in a tie with the tie breaker going to MK95 for audibility.

Advantage: Tie

Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995 – Story Execution

This may seem like a weird category, but it’s not. The Mortal Kombat story is quite simple overall. Outworld fights Earth Realm for the right to conquer it. Win 10 tournaments in a row and you win. In both MK95 and MK 21 this is the general outline. The champions of Earth face of against the armies of Outworld. This is the sole story line in MK95, but it’s also the sole storyline in MK21 right? WRONG! The new Mortal Kombat speaks of the tournament, but then it throws the entire premise out the window!

Shang Sung cheats. That’s a given and not surprising. The bad guys always look to cheat, but in MK21 Shang Sung attacks the Earth Realm fighters outside of the tournament. This is supposed to be forbidden. MK95 uses this to stop Shang Sung until they get to the tournament. MK21 ignores the rules, calls the elder gods lazy and indifferent and ignores the tournament structure.

Instead of seeing who faces off against who and advances, thus giving us something of a body count, MK21 lets all the fighters take each other on outside of the tournament. Yes MK95 used a lazy plot twist to make sure our three main fighters all survived, but MK21 erased the stakes all together. The final product in a record of Good Guys: 5, Bad Guys: 0. The heroes win every single fight. Now there is one death on the good side that I won’t spoil, but that one didn’t even happen in a fight! In Mortal Kombat there needs to stakes on the line, namely their lives.

One small area I will give MK21 a positive is the idea of arcana. In the game characters use special abilities like fire, ice, and so on. in MK21 instead of dismissing these powers or finding cheap excuses, MK21 introduces the idea of arcana powers. To fight in the tournament one must be ‘marked’. If someone isn’t marked, they can become marked and eligible by defeating a marked fighter. Marked fighters have the ability to unlock ‘arcana’, an internal ability that grants them a special power. In MK21 this is how Kano obtains his laser eye ability. I thought this was a nice touch. Although I am not sure about Cole’s power. His powers seem a bit vague, but in the end it works with the narrative laid out.

Advantage: MK95

Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995 – FIGHT!

Strength from within

Like with the big budget Kaiju movies, one does not go to movies like this expecting award winning actors or complex story lines. People go to Kaiju movies for the monsters. With Mortal Kombat, it’s the fighting. MK 95 did a solid job with most its fights. The two that stood out as amazing were Cage V Scorpion and Kang V Reptile. The two fights with Kitana and Sonya both sucked because Bridgette Wilson and Talisa Soto cannot fight worth a crap. I’ll give MK21 full marks for its actors’ fighting abilities. All of the actors turn in solid fighting performances, but my disappointment lies in the fact non of the fights really stood out. The martial arts was good, but I expected so much better. In the end none of the fights really stood out in either martial arts or use of unique powers.

IN fact in almost every single measurable factor, the first seven minutes of the movie between Hanzo Hasashi and Bi-Han released ahead of the movie, is the best part of the movie. The whole Scorpion V Subzero looked to be a major story point of the movie even though both are supposed to be evil. They are blood rivals, but this movie teases it at the beginning and tosses it back in at the end. Otherwise it means little. These two characters are largely wasted in MK21. In the end the two movies come down to who had the most memorable fights.

Advantage: MK95

Mortal Kombat 2021 v 1995 – Final Thoughts

In the end I found myself very disappointed in MK 21. Was it annihilation level bad? Oh hell no, but it failed to stand out or succeed in any of the ways I hoped it would. Reports were this movie sets up a franchise with 3-4 movies total, and that it does. I want to see this movie succeed well enough to garner a sequel even though I think it dropped the ball in so many ways this go around. Oh and for those wondering about a certain hot head with $500 sunglasses, his ‘existence’ is addressed in the movie.

I do not hate this movie, but I do not love it the way I hoped. In the end, when I am in a Mortal Kombat mood, which movie will I turn to first, Mortal Kombat 1995 or Mortal Kombat 2021? And the winner is –

Mortal Kombat 1995