Mortal Kombat's Director Wanted to Ground His Gory New Adaptation

Raiden. Wins.
Raiden. Wins.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Anyone who asks “Why is Hollywood making a new Mortal Kombat movie?” probably doesn’t follow Mortal Kombat. The first movie was released in 1995, around the same time the third game in the series was sucking up quarters in arcades around the world. In the 25 plus years since, not only have almost two dozen additional Mortal Kombat games been released, many of which add new characters and layers of mythology, but the entire world has changed, as well as the movie industry.

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“That movie was so steeped in the times of the ‘90s,” producer Todd Garner said during a recent press event. “Superhero movies, comic book movies, and martial arts movies evolved....Martial arts movies in general were very tongue-in-cheek. Movies like Rush Hour...I think, set a tone where it had a comedic bent to it. I think we’ve evolved from there. I look at movies like Mad Max [Fury Road]. I look at John Wick. I look at Deadpool. I look at those movies and even though they have like, a slyness to them and a wit and humor that’s born out of grounded characters and circumstances, they’re not swinging for the joke. They’re not swinging for the wink. And so we knew that was a tone we were going to stay away from and make this its own thing.”

“It’s just a much more epic, brutal, beautiful, sort of tasteful telling of the Mortal Kombat story,” director Simon McQuoid added.

In perpetration to make the adaptation, McQuoid told his team to imagine Mortal Kombat as a series of novels, rather than video games. “As soon as you visualize it as a book, you go, ‘Oh, boy, this really matters,’” he said. “‘This is really detailed and rich.’ So I, stylistically, wanted to not come from the films or come from the game, even though it’s probably more stylistically from the game than it is from the first film.”

From the instant this new version of Mortal Kombat begins, that unique approach is obvious. Gone is the guttural scream of “Mortal Kombat” followed by speaker-thumping techno beats—more on that in a second though—in its place is a serene forest setting where a family fishes and tends a garden. Suddenly, a brutal killer with freezing abilities arrives and murders the family. He and the father, who happens to be pretty good with a Kunai, fight with one emerging victorious.

The scene, which was the sole footage screened for the event, is much more grounded and emotional than you expect, with just the right amount of action and violence. Outside of a few nice winks to fans of the game, there’s no real indication in the film’s first 13 minutes this is anything but a dramatic, fantasy martial arts film. Here’s an exclusive look at the scene:

“The thing [Mortal Kombat] is about, really, comes from blood and what blood means,” McQuoid said. “It’s about bloodlines. Blood means our connections, it means family, it means all these things. It also happens to mean blood spraying everywhere, which is right for Mortal Kombat.”

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That’s another place this version of the movie will stand apart from the original. It’s going to be rated R. “There’s buckets of blood and there’s some crazy shit that happens in this movie,” Garner said. “We did everything we wanted”

Well, maybe not everything. Garner and McQuoid both said this version of Mortal Kombat was made to stand alone and satisfy both hardcore fans of the game, and people who’ve never even heard of it. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more. Maybe even a lot more.

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Photo: Warner Bros.

“I want to do nine hours of WandaVision in this thing,” Garner said. “Whatever our version of that is. Maybe it’s just a shot of the monks. Just Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Nine hours of them. I’m in. There’s so much to draw from...how about just going with Jax and Sonya Blade? You could do a full war movie with those guys.”

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He continued: “Our goal and our prayer is that this movie does well enough and we’ve set it up enough and is satisfying enough for both the fans and people who don’t know anything about Mortal Kombat that they’re going to allow us at some point to sit with [creators] Ed [Boon] and John [Tobias] and all the Warner Bros. execs and put a big whiteboard up like Kevin Feige did and map out the universe. Map out years and years of this.”

If that’s the goal, it probably goes without saying that not every Mortal Kombat character or story is in this movie. Many just couldn’t fit into this particular tale and certain characters, such as Johnny Cage, were purposefully held back. Plus, any sequel or spinoff will depend on how much fans like this new version of Mortal Kombat. For me, much of that rests in telling a new, dramatic story, but also tickling the nostalgia from that first movie—there’s no better way to do that than with that unforgettable opening song: “Techno Syndrome” by The Immortals.

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Photo: Warner Bros.

“Music is one of the fundamentals of what makes “Mortal Kombat” Mortal Kombat. We knew that,” McQuoid said “And Ben Wallfisch, who’s the composer, kind of did a forensic study on that song because we knew it was a key ingredient. So he pulled that song apart and has used it [throughout].”

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But what about the scream, Simon? Tell us about the Mortal Kombat scream! “There’s something that comes up at the end as another little gift to those who like the song,” he said. “So I’ll just put it that way. I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

Hey, if Mortal Kombat can actually deliver on its promise of great characters, great action, and a great story, that’ll be surprise enough.

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Mortal Kombat comes to theaters and HBO Max on April 16.

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Entertainment Reporter. NYU Cinema Studies Alum. Formerly Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and /Film. AP Award-Winning Film Critic & CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

DISCUSSION

collex
collex

Everytime I see footage from this movie I get excited. But then the director starts talking and I can’t help shaking my head. He’s always trying to sell this as some serious, deep story. Dude, this is Mortal Kombat. With a K. It’s not “tasteful”, it’s not a novel, it’s not a deep treatise on the concept of “blood” and blood relations. It’s an ultra-violent videogame about a bunch of humans fighting a bunch of monsters and Chinese ninjas with superpowers in order to save the Earth. It’s schlock, and it is proud of it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t put efforts and thought in the movie - good schlock needs both of those - but maybe trying to envision it as a novel is going a bit too far?

Like I said, the trailer and other footage looks great, so maybe I should just ignore the director from now on.