Gamers and martial arts movie fans have a lot to look forward to next month with the release of Mortal Kombat, which revives the series with a fresh new lead and plenty of uncensored, over-the-top violence. Fans of the video games can expect to see many of their favorite characters, including Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Raiden, Jax, and Liu Kang brought to life with honesty to the source material. These characters have not been seen on screen since 1997, in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which left much to be desired.
This week, MXDWN Movies participated in a special press event with director Simon McQuoid and producer Todd Garner, where they reassured us that this newest film will be a refreshing, diverse, and action-packed take on the franchise, welcoming both longtime fans and newcomers.
The film follows protagonist Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan, who is an original character new to this film and acts as a guide to getting to know the complex, character-filled Mortal Kombat world. Of course, many fans were not in favor of this decision to focus on a new character, but Garner discusses why it was so important to have Cole’s character exist, as “Cole asks the questions, and we get the answers.”
“We have to, by means of this movie, get everybody caught up so that if they let us make another one, everybody will be on the same page and then we can start really digging into all the other great characters,” the producer said. “We had to make sure we were creating an experience that was cinematic, emotional, true to the canon, but also, as just a casual fan, you could go in and not be totally lost and enjoy the movie.”
Staying true to the source material is a particular struggle for any adaptation, particularly with video game adaptations, which have tended to flop. McQuoid believes the reason for this trend is that with other films, “They don’t really respect the material to begin with, and they ignore things that shouldn’t be ignored.” He added, “I just tried to respect the material and use that, and move the Mortal Kombat tone and feeling into a place that was a big, epic version of what people love.”
Garner, who has been known to engage with critical fans on Twitter, addressed the issue of balancing that love from fans with creative decisions, saying “You’re not gonna make a movie that everyone likes.” He added that because Mortal Kombat is a video game, an interactive medium, the connections from fans to the characters are all that more intense. “You become the characters in the game, not passively watching,” he said, so “when they say it’s their favorite character, it’s more than that.” To him, fan complaints are understandable, and he acknowledges that “They’re the reason that I’m here. I have this desire to please the fans because they deserve to be pleased.”
One thing fans have been waiting for is a Mortal Kombat film with an R-rating, as the games are known for gratuitous violence and wildly creative fatalities. As the director, McQuoid wanted to make sure it met the gory expectations, but also that all the violence was rooted in the story itself. “It needed story telling and it needed character building within that [violence],” he said. “I didn’t want it to feel over-the-top for the sake of it being over-the-top, it always has to reside in this authentic tone and feeling.”
Garner said that he came on to this project demanding an R-rating with fellow producer James Wan, who is currently busy with Aquaman 2. “There were 5 things James and I said, you might call them demands,” Garner explains. “One, it’s gotta be R-rated, two, it’s gotta be a diverse cast, three, it’s gotta be legitimate to the lore and the backstory of each character, four, it’s gotta be real martial artists, and five is, we’re gonna do these characters, we’re not gonna have any movie stars. And they went, cool! Seven years later, we got the movie made.”
Authenticity was a major goal for the filmmakers, wanting to ground the world of the film as much as possible. Diversity was one aspect of that, giving this film one of the most racially diverse ensemble casts you’ll see in an action movie. This included casting a non-white lead to play Cole Young, something Garner was adamant about. Garner explained that it was films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther that helped make this diversity possible and helped get this film off the ground after many years in development limbo.
Another means of keeping the film authentic was casting martial artists, as director McQuoid did not want to rely on CGI or stuntmen, “When you look at the way those guys perform, it’s authentic,” he said. “I’m a believer in authenticity having a great deal of power.” Filming on location in Australia also assisted with instilling that power, as they utilized practical sets and real locations with real stunts. “No wires, no CG, practical sets, real dust, real sweat, real flies, real 100 degree heat” Garner said about the production.
Ultimately all the effort that went in to making this film was to finally give fans an entertaining, dimensional, no-punches-pulled Mortal Kombat film that honors the source material. “What I love about film is the idea of being able to bring up these characters to an authentic place that feels big and epic and we all wanted to do that,” McQuoid said. “Knowing how immense and important the characters are to the experience, I love that feeling, I love that feeling of being able to bring that level of respect.”
Producer James Wan, who was not able to make it to the interview, stated in a note that “From the get go, Todd Garner, my Atomic Monster team and I, were excited and gung-ho about creating a new, updated version with today’s filmmaking technology whilst being respectful to the fantasy tone, violent action, and gore of the game that fans have come to love and, at the same time, bring these vivid characters and stories back to the big screen in a modern, exciting way for a whole new generation who may not be as familiar with the films as we were growing up.
“We love this movie, and we don’t want to disappoint the fans” Garner added. “The excitement of creating an MKU is beyond for me” he said, mentioning the possibility of spin-offs focusing on individual characters along with overall sequels. “My goal is to live with this franchise til I die.”
This was a passion project for many of the creators, with years of effort going into the final product. Now, the film’s release is less than a month away, and will be available in theaters and on HBO Max on April 16.