As the new Mortal Kombat movie approaches (it’s due out in the US at cinemas and on HBO Max on April 16th, and is “coming soon” to the UK), thoughts are turning to what’s next. Is this promising-looking martial arts fantasy film a one-off? Or is it the start of something more?
Based on the recently-released trailer, Mortal Kombat looks right up fans’ street. This is an R-rated movie – it’s the first Mortal Kombat movie to get such a rating – and so there’s plenty of gore. And there are even fatalities (Kano rips someone’s heart out, as he does in the games). This is in keeping with the source material, of course. But it’s a world (or should that be realm?) away from the cult classic 1995 Mortal Kombat movie – a film I love even now, over 25 years after it came out. That film was silly, stupid fun but its fight scenes had a cool factor kids who were way too young to be playing Mortal Kombat at the time – like me – lapped up.
Times have changed, and this new Mortal Kombat is certainly more grounded than the first, and, yes, the acting is a lot better. I’ve seen the first 13 minutes of the film, and there are some harrowing and tense moments in there alongside some cool fighting. The movie begins with an attack at the Hanzo Hasashi Compound, circa 1617 Japan, that sets up the bitter feud between Hanzo Hasashi himself, who later becomes Scorpion, and Bi-Han, who later becomes Sub-Zero. We see Hasashi in an impressive – and brutal – fight against Bi-Han’s Lin Kuei clan goons. We even get to see how Scorpion got his signature spear weapon (during the fight, Hasashi grabs a kunai that was being used as a gardening tool and attaches it to a rope).
Eventually Bi-Han, who is very much the menacing villain, turns up and does horrible menacing villain things to Hasashi and his family. There’s a lightning quick appearance from Raiden, and a crying baby teleported to safety. I’m guessing all this sets up the meat of the story that takes place in the present day and revolves around the Mortal Kombat tournament the heroes find themselves in.
A bit more grounded, indeed. I had the chance to speak with the movie’s producer, Todd Garner, and its director, Simon McQuoid, to discuss a range of topics including how the filmmakers incorporated fatalities, how they decided which characters from the games to include, why they created an entirely new character to act as the protagonist of the film, and the Mortal Kombat cinematic master plan. Oh, and why isn’t Johnny Cage in the movie? Here’s what they had to say.
How did you decide which fatalities to use in the movie? And how did you go about realising them on-screen?
Todd Garner: Well, first of all, we knew that they were going to be R-rated. So you’re already knowing that they’re going to be violent, they’re going to be somewhat faithful to the game. Due to the restrictions, making motion pictures with live actors, we have a little bit tougher restrictions than video games have. So you knew the parameters you were going to exist in.
We made sure we looked at all of the fatalities of the specific characters. We weren’t just cherry-picking gory fatalities. We were making sure the fatalities were the right fatalities for those characters, and that those fatalities fit in the lore of the game, and fit with the characters that were actually doing the fatalities. And then we just wanted to make sure that they were not only cinematic, but really emotionally satisfying, and not just gory for the sake of being gory.
In the video games, the fatalities are outrageously, over the top violent. There’s an almost hilarious shock factor to them where you end up laughing half the time. How did you thread the needle on replicating that in the movie? It looks to me like you’re making something that’s more grounded, where you’re not meant to laugh out loud at the violence, but rather be impressed by it.
Simon McQuoid: It’s a very delicate balance we constantly were measuring and considering. The set that’s in there were carefully thought about as the set in terms of which ones we keep in.
Most of the most brutal things in the game, if you put them in as live action, if you put them in a film, the film would be un-releasable. It would go to the highest rating, whatever that is – I think there’s one above NC-17 – and people wouldn’t release the film. Because when you bring these things into reality, they take on a whole different feeling.
So it was really about trying to make those fatalities fit into the narrative and fit into what was right for a character or the story in the moment, so they didn’t just feel like we’re ticking boxes. I wanted them to really thread through the story.
Stylistically, there’s some fun stuff in the film. I wanted to balance this sense of fun, but I never wanted it to feel like it was silly or stupid or just over the top.
There’s some stuff in it that you haven’t really seen in any of the trailers as it’s still under lock and key, but it’s pretty full on. We knew we had to get really close to the line, to be respectful to the material, to be respectful to where this is coming from, but we tried to do it in a way that had a level of brutality but also had a level of fantasy to it.
I can’t really describe it, because if I do then you guys will, a) lose your minds, and b) know exactly what it is and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. It had a lot of thought put into it, for sure.
Obviously you had to be selective with the characters. There are way too many Mortal Kombat characters to have in one film. How did you decide which characters to use, and which to leave out?
Todd Garner: It really came from deciding what story we wanted to tell. The Hanzo Hasashi and Bi-Han story is very important to the movie and very important to the Mortal Kombat lore. So that was really the first thing we started with. We knew we wanted to tell that story. And there are obviously core characters in the game, like Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Raiden, Shang Tsung, Mileena, Kano, Sonya and Jax. So we knew the core characters were going to be involved in it.
And then the question became, well, then how do you bring all those disparate stories together in a way that serves the larger story and the more emotional story in that original Hanzo Bi-Han story? That’s why early on James [Wan, producer] and I decided we were going to create this Cole Young character, because we didn’t want to take a character that existed in the game and manipulate that character so that it was helping us tell the story. So we started from a fresh perspective and used a character that we could manipulate for lack of a better word, to help us bring all those other stories together in a way that the rules and the lore of the game would be front and centre, without taking a character and unravelling the hard work that Ed [Boon] and John [Tobias, Mortal Kombat co-creators] have already done.
And obviously, a lot of people have commented on the fact that Johnny Cage is not in the movie. I mean, I think he needs his own movie. He’s such a wildly fun, egotistical, crazy character – [who] steps a little bit on the toes of Kano in that regard. And so we knew that he was so important that we couldn’t ham-fist him into this movie. We needed to let him come and really be the character we know he can be. And plus, hopefully, we’ll get a sequel!
As you’ve said, Johnny Cage deserves his own movie. What is the masterplan here? What is the dream, assuming this film does well?
Todd Garner: I mean, the dream is to sit down with Ed and John and Warner Bros. and Simon and the writers and look at a board with all of the characters on it and do what Marvel was able to do, which is to map out intelligently a series of movies and things to tie all the characters together and give them all their due.
I mean, for me, personally, I would love to see a nine-hour series of the monks. And I would love to see a series about Jax and Sonya Blade’s time in the Special Forces. Maybe that movie would look like Black Hawk Down, and maybe the monk story would look like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
To be able to give each character their own space and respect and really dig into their stories so that everybody who plays this game and our fans get a deep dive into each of the characters – that’s the dream. Who knows what will happen? But there’s so much rich IP there that we could go for a long, long time.