Mortal Kombat 1995 vs 2021 – Who Wins?

Mortal Kombat Kompare and Kontrast

Did you enjoy GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra but wish it were gorier and had F-bombs? Then the new Mortal Kombat movie is for you!

Mortal Kombat 1995 vs 2021

This weekend saw the release of Warner Bros’ reboot of the long-dormant Mortal Kombat film series in theaters and on HBO Max. The question on everyone’s mind is how does the 2021 Mortal Kombat film stack up to the original, Mortal Kombat 1995? The truth is the two are vastly different adaptations of the source material, with their own individual strengths and flaws. I decided to test them both on their merit to see which emerged victoriously.

Liu Kang vs Cole Young

The 1995 original featured Liu Kang as the main protagonist, played by Robin Shou. Funny, charismatic, and a talented martial artist, Shou does an admirable job carrying the movie’s emotional weight. Cole Young is an original character created exclusively for the 2021 movie. It’s interesting to watch the lore behind this new fighter unfold onscreen. I imagine he will be a DLC character for MK11 any day now. Formulaic doesn’t even begin to describe Cole’s scenes with his wife and daughter, though. That’s more a complaint about the script than Lewis Tan’s performance. He’s a skilled martial artist and a solid actor who’s forced to work with limited funds.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ‘95

Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero

In the 1995 original, the Scorpion and Sub-Zero, the characters who serve as the series’ mascots, are presented without backstory in fights against Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, respectively. The fights are entertaining enough, but they’re each defeated and immediately forgotten. In the new MK, the blood feud between Scorpion and Sub-Zero is central to the film’s story. Scorpion’s surprise reappearance in the final act is hands down the best moment of the entire movie.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ‘21

Shang Tsung

The new movie features Chin Han (The Dark Knight) as archvillain Shang Tsung. He’s as generic as they come, and he doesn’t even fight. It’s a very underwhelming take. Seriously, I just watched the movie, and I don’t remember him. In the 1995 original, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa steals the freaking show in a vastly superior take on Shang. Tagawa’s performance alone makes the entire movie worth watching. His Shang observes the rules put in place by the Elder Gods surrounding the tournament. This code of honor makes him a more respectable, sinister and memorable, villain, as does the electric chemistry he shares with Robin Shou’s Liu Kang.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ’95 by far

Liu Kang

I was in 2nd grade the first time I saw the original movie, and I never forgot Liu and Shang’s final fight. The two leads succeed in delivering a compelling conflict, both physically and emotionally—props to Robin Shou for standing up and meeting Tagawa’s energy.

As for 2021 Liu Kang: I like Ludi Lin. He played the black Power Ranger in the underwhelming 2017 reboot of that franchise. That movie was lame, but he was fun to watch, which is kind of the case here. This version of Liu is a secondary character meant to provide exposition and explain the concept of ‘Arcana,’ or magical abilities every chosen fighter possesses. When we meet him, he’s already a master of his Dragon Fire technique, so we don’t really get to see him grow as a character.

In terms of which interpretation I liked more (nothing against Ludi Lin), I don’t hesitate to choose the original.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ‘95

Sonya Blade

I remember seeing Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade in the original trailer and thinking, “The hot teacher from Billy Madison in Mortal Kombat? Really?”. To my surprise, Wilson kicked wholesale ass as Sonya. She even did all her own stunts and fight sequences. Unfortunately, her character takes a tumble into cliché damsel-in-distress territory. She deteriorates into merely a love interest for Johnny Cage.

Australian actress, Jessica McNamee’s Sonia, is actually the opposite. She starts off as the Special Forces vet whose superpower is explaining the plot. She is demeaned by ally and enemy alike for lacking a Dragon Mark. Throughout the movie, she proves herself as a fighter, slays the double-crossing Kano, and finally achieves her own symbol. She immediately masters her own Arcana ability and contributes to the team. Despite being a mindless misfire in many ways, this movie managed to give Sonya a compelling little arc.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ’21

Fatalities PG-13 vs Rated-R

This new version’s sole reason for being is that MK fans wanted to see some gory fatalities onscreen that have become synonymous with the franchise. This is one of the few areas where the new movie does not disappoint. Kung Lao’s gruesome murder of Nitara was my personal favorite, though there are plenty. The 1995 movie wasn’t able to depict the iconic fatalities by nature of being PG-13. The best we get is Shang Tsung making a goofy face and reaving a dead fighter’s soul.

Another category with a clear winner. 

Winner: Mortal Kombat ’21

The Tournament

For this final entry, I was going to compare the matchups of each tournament, but I can’t do that because THE NEW MOVIE DOESN’T HAVE A TOURNAMENT. That’s right. Shang Tsung and his team break the rules, bust into Raiden’s temple early and get their asses handed to them. It’s a straightforward setup for a sequel. Still, there’s nothing sadder than a movie that foregoes resolution in favor of a sequel that never happens. Time will tell, but as of now, 1995’s MK is still the champion.

Oh yeah, the original techno Mortal Kombat theme still absolutely slaps.

Winner: Mortal Kombat ‘95

Read our Mortal Kombat Movie Review.

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Writer, native Texan, DBZ fanatic, and budding Oscars historian

2 thoughts on “Mortal Kombat 1995 vs 2021 – Who Wins?

  1. Such a thorough article. Love how the author breaks everything down and explains MK so well. I feel like I saw it just from reading this!

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