Mortal Kombat is aiming to be more than just another video game movie. Everything, from the way producer Todd Garner and director Simon McQuoid gush over the project, to the refreshingly restrained opening scene, speaks to a production that will seriously surprise casual and hardcore fans alike. Mortal Kombat simply isn’t content with being another mediocre adaptation dragged kicking and screaming from consoles to the cinema – it wants to stand alone as a great movie in its own right.
GamesRadar+ recently put that mantra to the test. We not only watched the first 13 minutes of the upcoming movie, but also picked the brains of Garner and McQuoid. You ready? Get over here! These are seven of the biggest, bloodiest things we’ve learned ahead of April’s fatality-filled release.
Mortal Kombat starts in surprising fashion
Don’t expect fatalities right out of the gate in Mortal Kombat. The opening scene, interestingly, starts off in tranquil fashion in 17th Century Japan. There, a man named Hanzo and his wife Himuri are overlooking their estate alongside their newborn baby.
Things soon turn south. Hanzo heads off to fetch water for the garden and Himuri is confronted by a mysterious man with ice powers, Bi-Han (played by Joe Taslim). He threatens her into revealing the location of Hanzo, who rushes back after hearing screams, only to be met by the frozen body of his wife.
Hanzo vows to seek revenge and then takes out Bi-Han’s men in a scene that will get your juices flowing. Swift, breezy choreographed fights see Hanzo dispatch each warrior one by one before confronting Bi-Han. A brutal, visceral scrap, the fight is an appetizer for, surely, even bloodier bouts to come. The showdown with Bi-Han, though, ends in tragic fashion as Hanzo is killed. In one final twist, as Bi-Han departs, the Thunder God, Raiden, arrives in a bolt of lightning and carries off Hanzo’s child.
For director Simon McQuoid, that opening was all about striking a balance between looking cinematic and being Mortal Kombat.
"OK, you’re coming to see a Mortal Kombat movie. We need a fight pretty early," he tells journalists at a roundtable, attended by GamesRadar+. "As I kept saying jokingly to people: we’re not doing Wuthering Heights here. We can be really beautiful and cinematic and elegant, but it’s Mortal Kombat. Let’s have some fun. So it was really just balancing those things. There was story stuff. There’s was stylistic, emotional stuff. And then it was like, ‘Alright, let’s get into it. Let’s put a Kunai through someone’s head."
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Mortal Kombat is raising the bar for video game movies – by not trying to be one
For the team behind Mortal Kombat, the 2021 production arguably isn’t even a video game movie. "I don’t look at it as a video game movie. I look at it as a martial arts movie," producer Todd Garner says. "There’s much more successful roads to making a good martial arts movie. There’s been loads and loads of them – and not so many good video game movies."
That way of thinking even extends to the fighters and how the clash of styles is already a broad enough canvas on which to paint. Garner notes that "the fact that each character has their own fighting style and their own skillset made it much easier to create a world where these characters could exist and be successful, rather than looking at it purely as a video game movie."
Mortal Kombat, then, is potentially a video game movie in name only. Instead, Garner is looking towards the storied history of the martial arts genre as a roadmap for success.
Sub-Zero is the main villain – but there are others
We’ve all got a favorite Mortal Kombat villain. From the arm-ripping Goro, to the smarmy Kano, you can’t move for a bad guy or twenty in the fighting franchise’s heaving roster. The 2021 movie, though, is trimming things down a bit: Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) is described by director Simon McQuoid as the "key villain" – but there are "others", most notably Shang Tsung and Mileena, who form part of an "ensemble of bad guys".
Mortal Kombat is looking to Lord of the Rings for its world-building
Far from being the brainless fighter that greedily gobbled up quarters in arcades across the world in the early ‘90s, Mortal Kombat has evolved into a lore-heavy world, filled with time travel, betrayals, and several interlocking factions. To aid with the plate-spinning that comes with Mortal Kombat’s more mature storytelling in the past decade, Garner says he’s looking to an unlikely source: The Lord of the Rings.
"When we really researched all of the lore and fantasy and rules and mythology to Mortal Kombat, we really looked at it like Lord of the Rings," Garner explains. There’s so many different characters. The challenge, then, is: how do you bring them all together? You look at the way that Lord of the Rings did it… and that’s how we did it. We looked at it as a novel. In a novel, when you have 1,000 pages, and you have to distil it down into two hours, you have to make choices, and you have to be smart about the essence of what is happening."
Mortal Kombat isn’t taking too much from the 1990s movies
Mortal Kombat has been off the big screen for nearly a quarter-of-a-century. It’s been such a long span of time that Garner isn’t looking specifically to 1995’s original, nor the 1997 Annihilation sequel, for pointers in 2021.
"We tried to do something completely different, and start over, and say, ‘OK, in this world and this time, what’s the best way to start this story? What’s the best, most impactful way to tell the Mortal Kombat story?'" he says. "We didn’t really want to take swipes at that movie and do things that they did wrong. But you have similar characters, and you have similar things that are going to happen. It’s just the way of the beast. There’s only so many stories and ways to slice this pie. There’s probably going to be some similarities and things that will be compared."
Mortal Kombat’s cast and crew toughed it out in Australia
If some of Mortal Kombat’s scenes feel rough around the edges, that’s because they are – in a good way.
Garner describes having to go out to Australia to film in 110-degree heat, with sometimes less than optimal conditions for filming. It was a boon to the production, though, as those shifts were a world away from the comfortable world of CGI and green screens.
"That adjustment makes the movie feel very visceral, and very real, and messy, and interesting," he explains. "When you watch movies that have a lot of green screen, you can tell. Everything just sort of feels like an animated movie, almost, and Simon did not want that."
Mortal Kombat has one more secret character left to reveal
Just like any good fighting game, one of the combatants is effectively grayed out and their identity remains a mystery. The director has assured fans that one more surprise is being held back for the movie with "one character that you’re not aware of yet" – potentially a villain – yet to make their mark in any of the trailers, teasers, or promotional material.
Who could it be? A quick rundown of all the confirmed cast suggests Shao Kahn is the biggest household name left off the docket. Maybe, just maybe, the ruler of Outworld is being held back for a post-credits scene or an easy way to set up a sequel.
Mortal Kombat is out in theaters and streaming on HBO Max in the US from April 16 and is coming soon to the UK. Check out the best HBO Max prices.