With the recent news that Mortal Kombat X has been the most profitable game of the year so far, was anybody really surprised that a new movie would be in the works? There have been rumblings about it for a while now, including suspicions that Mortal Kombat: Legacy director Kevin Tancharoen would take the helm. Instead, we’ll be getting our next cinematic attempt to adapt the iconic fighting game series with none other than horror’s own James Wan in the producer’s chair. Given that we’re getting a second chance to bring this series to the big screen, let’s take a look at the things that I believe a new Mortal Kombat film absolutely needs.
An R Rating
Let’s get this out of the way right now, because it’s the obvious one. Mortal Kombat is a series that built its reputation on being the bloodiest game in town. It’s the reason that the ESRB video game rating system even exists, and it’s only gotten more extreme as time has gone on. Unfortunately, the previous attempts to bring it to the big screen went for a PG-13 and totally skimped out on the intense violence that fans expected. If we’re going to give it another shot, it needs an R rating. We need to see Fatalities performed in all of their gore-soaked glory, and if the recent success of Mad Max: Fury Road has taught us anything, it’s that a big blockbuster action movie can be a hard R and still be wildly successful. Additionally, given that Deadpool is slated to come out next year it looks like the studios are finally willing to take some risks in terms of rating, and hopefully we can see this trend continue with Mortal Kombat.
Mortal Kombat’s representation of Asian culture has varied from featuring “vaguely Asian sounding and looking things” early in the franchise to some more sincere attempts to bring authenticity to the fighting styles later on. If we’re going to bring this into a live action setting it needs to feel real, and the martial arts in particular should be fairly authentic. Liberties can be taken based on what works best in a movie, but giving each fighter their own moves and style based on where they originate from would go a long way towards creating a believable world. I want each hit to have impact and feel like the characters are actually being damaged instead of each fight just being overly choreographed backflip sequences. This should have fight scenes like The Raid: Redemption, not Power Rangers.
While a successful adaptation does need to be grounded in reality, we also need to make sure we don’t stray too far from what people enjoy about the setting of the games. Tancharoen’s original YouTube short Mortal Kombat: Rebirth was an interesting take on the material, but I wouldn’t want to see a “Nolanized” version for the official film. Mortal Kombat contains a lot of fantasy elements including gods and monsters, other dimensions and ninjas with magic powers and all of that needs to be maintained, albeit in a smart way. Establish the existence of supernatural elements right from the beginning and don’t get too caught up with the explanations. Nothing drags a movie down faster than unnecessary exposition. We don’t really need to know that Johnny Cage tosses green fireballs because he descends from a Mediterranean cult or that Reptile is a scaled lizard man because he’s the sole survivor of the Saurian race from the realm of Zaterra. Just say that the tournament is host to the world’s greatest fighters with weird and powerful abilities, and audiences will just go with it.
Mortal Kombat is known for its plethora of unique and bizarre characters, but if we want to avoid a repeat of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation it would be best not to try to cram as many as possible into the plot. Everyone has their own favorite, but realistically not everyone can be featured. That doesn’t mean we can’t have them appear in the background, though. While the movie focuses on a handful of important protagonists, there’s still a whole tournament going on that we’re not necessarily witnessing. Why not have Nightwolf or Kabal show up in the crowd? What about having human versions of Cyrax and Sektor appear at the Lin Kuei base when Sub-Zero is introduced or having Kung Lao hanging out at the Shaolin temple when we first meet Liu Kang? Hell, this doesn’t even need to be limited to characters. What about a brief scene that includes a Test Your Might style board break? Peppered throughout the movie, these could not only serve as fun nods to the fans, but also help flesh out the world.
This is the big one. This is the huge important thing that was missing from the old movies. Scorpion and Sub-Zero are the faces of the franchise, and their rivalry is legendary. Unfortunately, we never got to see them square off. This needs to be in the new movie, and their fight needs to be memorable. Honestly, if I had my way this would be the film’s focus. Forget about Liu Kang’s struggle to save Earth Realm from Shang Tsung. We’ve seen that before, and Liu Kang isn’t even one of the more popular characters. Why don’t we do this as a John Wick style revenge story starring Scorpion, with the tournament serving as a backdrop? Using the undead wraith as the plot’s protagonist would even be a great way to justify having the “good guy” tearing people apart when he wins. It’s a bit harder to accept that when it’s a Shaolin monk, but if we’re following an antihero it’s perfectly believable.