Benjamin Wallfisch’s Mortal Kombat is a bit of a mixed bag – it features a high octane action orchestral style and more than a few reprisals of the classic MK theme, but there’s also a distinct lack of memorability that overall struggles to elevate the score any higher than decidedly mediocre.
Now, cards on the table – I don’t really know all that much about Mortal Kombat. It’s a highly popular video game series that over the years I naturally have been aware of, but also never really looked into or played for that matter. For the new movie though I’d heard that Benjamin Wallfisch was composing the score, and that I’ll admit certainly piqued my interest, given how much I enjoyed his work for SHAZAM!, and how beloved the music for the Mortal Kombat series generally has been by its fanbase (particularly that main theme). As such, I gave the score a few listens upon its release the other week, and now – here we are.
Techno Syndrome 2021 is the first track of the score, and is in essence Wallfisch’s modernised take on the classic Mortal Kombat theme, originally composed by Oliver Adams and performed by Belgian band The Immortals. As you might expect, the cue is mainly composed of loud, electronic beats and video-game-esque vocals undercurrented by dramatic EDM score that play the main notes from the original MK motif for three loudly emphatic minutes. Hopeful, upbeat electronics then open Hanzo Hasashi, with loud brass entering the fray and reaching two rapidly successive crescendos before the music then calms back down. At this point, gentle woodwinds and slow strings take over for a few minutes of peaceful melancholy until distorted electronics then arrive at the three minute mark, turning the tone from wistful to worrisome with ominous vocals also emphasizing the shift in mood. As the seven minute track then begins to draw to a close, the gentle strings from earlier return and sound out a particularly sorrowful finale to the piece. Imposing percussion and deep, loud vocals then open Lord Raiden with boisterous brass then bursting through a few seconds later, making for an epic though rather ominous-sounding back half of the cue. The distorted electronics then return in Bi-Han, with things getting more and more frantic as fast-paced percussion and imposing brass then join the electronics for two minutes of loudly emphatic action score.
Sinister brass and malevolent-sounding electronics form the stylistic centrepiece of Shang Tsung, with creepy vocals helping to establish a pretty villainous tone overall. The pace then quickens in Cole Young, with frantic percussion and frequent bursts of dissonant electronics keeping the pace high and the mood worrisome. This continues for a good minute or so before the electronics start to rise in intensity, and the track then ends with a loud rumble of tense percussion. A slow, solemn piano then plays through the opening minute of Birthmark, with the tone beginning to pick up shortly after as hopeful strings arrive. This then segues into Sonya Blade, where the strings are joined by low-pitched, atmospheric electronics and drawn-out, dramatic brass notes that all together make for quite a heroic-sounding track overall. We then get our first taste of proper battle music in Kano V Reptile, a cue that opens with a build-up to a loud, brassy crescendo before imposing percussion and emphatic electronics then arrive to drive the intense and rather frantic nature of the music here home.
So far though, I have to admit – while I am certainly enjoying Benjamin Wallfisch’s stylistic variation here (the orchestra and electronics for example mix rather well), I am finding the score a little lacking in substance, particularly in terms of tangible themes. The musical style has epic brass, dramatic percussion and makes good tonal use of vocals and tense electronics, but doesn’t really do anything with them that truly stands out. There’s honestly nothing so far bar Techno Syndrome that’s particularly recognisable or memorable after the fact (or that I particularly want to revisit anyway), and even that track is simply a new version of an older theme – and one that (so far) doesn’t even seem to have much of a role to play in the full score. Even the fighting music is a little dry.
Still, we are only a few tracks in, so back to it – Liu Kang opens rather mysteriously, with a crash of percussion then introducing thunderous brass and emboldened vocals. This only lasts for a few seconds however before gentle woodwinds and hopeful electronics take over, reducing the volume and turning the mood atmospherically optimistic for the last minute or two of the track. The score then moves into The Great Protector, where solemn strings and low-pitched brass evoke a sense of mystery for two minutes of quietly ambient score. Barrages of ominous brass accompanied by loud, foreboding strings then play for the short Sub-Zero, which then build up into a near-deafeningly loud electronic and brass crescendo just as the cue closes out. The tone then becomes rather upbeat at the start of Kung Lao, with percussion, heroic brass and swirling electronics then pulling the track up into action territory for several ferocious, fast-paced minutes. This hopefulness then continues into the rather epic Origins, where the orchestra picks up quite considerably with dramatic drums, rising brass and emphatic strings making for a particularly stirring opening, though sadly one that doesn’t last for very long as the music then rapidly descends into quiet, vocal pensivity for the remainder of the piece. We then get a couple more character cues with Kabal and Goro, with the former leaning into slow, sinister territory on low-pitched brass and strings, and the latter kicking up the pace with frenetic electronics and nerve-wrackingly tense percussion. Arcana then continues this intensity, with loud percussive bursts playing alongside frenzied strings for the first minute or so before electronics and brass then arrive for a triumphantly heroic finish.
Slow, drawn-out but rather loud brass notes form the musical baseline of Jax Briggs, with the orchestra then rising up to meet them together with intense vocals and crashes of percussion as the action continues to build. Quiet strings-based solemnity then briefly takes over in The Void before the action then comes back in full force with The Tournament. Over the course of the cue’s five minute runtime, deafening drums, frantic electronics and the occasional burst of enthusiastically heroic brass each take their respective bows, with the main Mortal Kombat theme itself even making a short though proudly epic appearance about halfway through the piece. The fast pace then segues dramatically into the rather short Sub-Zero V. Cole Young, with worrisome brass taking centre stage together with frenetic drums until I Am Scorpion then shatters the tension completely with a loudly heroic (though again rather short) rendition of the Mortal Kombat theme, with emphatic vocals and brass then leading the musical charge. We Fight As One once again shortly reprises the main theme before then finishing up the action finale of the score on a loud, brassy crescendo. Last track Get Over Here however slows things right back down, with the pensive woodwinds from early on in the album returning alongside mysterious-sounding strings, then ending the score on a curiously upbeat though worryingly ominous note.
Overall, Benjamin Wallfisch’s rather enthusiastic score for Mortal Kombat is sadly a little underwhelming, at least for me. On the one hand, you have some excellent reprisals of a main theme that has stuck around throughout a widespread game and movie franchise spanning several decades, not to mention a well-composed orchestral style for the score that also makes good use of vocals and electronics. On the other hand however, I must admit I did struggle with this album at times. For one, there’s a considerable lack of discernable themes bar the main one (and even that isn’t really all that memorable, at least from where I’m standing – but then I’ve admittedly never been the world’s biggest fan of EDM) and the orchestration, while rich, I did find rather devoid of substance i.e. while I enjoyed some of the tracks (mainly the final few), there wasn’t really much that stuck with me after the fact, that I would really want to go back to or revisit in the future anyway. I found myself genuinely struggling as well to pick a standout cue that I actually liked. All-in, MK is a decently composed score (certainly in terms of style)… just not a particularly memorable one.
Still, I’m sure there’s more than a few Mortal Kombat fans out there that’ll probably love this.
Standout Cue: 22. I Am Scorpion
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