How Mortal Kombat Gives ‘Justice’ To Fans And Bucks The Video Game Movie Curse
Mortal Kombat’s stars have one thing to say to fans concerned about it falling victim to the video game movie curse: get over here.
The cream trickles from the crop. Ever since 1993’s inexplicable Super Mario Bros., studios have tried to cash in on gaming, and for the most part, the results have been withering. Whether it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the source material, dodgy casting, needless changes or a smattering of crap touches, there’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to sticking the landing.
In the short list of wins – such as Silent Hill, Sonic the Hedgehog, Resident Evil, Tron: Legacy and Rampage – Mortal Kombat is the latest addition, a glorious love letter to a franchise that’s had siblings, friends and strangers united in bloody arms for generations, with a cast and crew who knew what they had to do.
The gut-splurging, spine-ripping, head-clapping fighting series hasn’t seen a feature adaptation since 1997’s blasphemous Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a sequel to the modest, enjoyably cheesy Mortal Kombat two years prior. Soon, Simon McQuoid, Greg Russo and Dave Callaham’s long-awaited take will hit the UK.
It follows Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter with a dragon birthmark who’s thrown into Mortal Kombat to protect Earthrealm from Outworld, fighting alongside Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). With icy fury, Bi-Han/Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) is hot on their tails.
Ahead of Mortal Kombat’s release, we spoke to the whole cast about the challenges of bringing a video game to life in cinematic form, and why this film bucks the trend of disappointment.
Tan, who’s playing a never-before-seen character, said: ‘For me, I think that what makes a great film is always story, story is number one. A lot of video game adaptations have had a hard time fitting in this story in the contents of what a film is.’
He continued: ‘Also, these games have a huge fanbase and a very diverse world. You want to play it for hours and hours, right? Well a movie is two hours. So, how do you fit all that in to the format of the film and make it not just entertainment, but also connect to the audience? Fortunately, we had a director and crew that cared enough, we made something great.’
For Brooks, the key was appreciating the ‘extraordinary circumstances, this contest of the dominants, these extraordinary characters… I think one thing we did right, is these characters – even though the world is huge and adventurous, and the universe is expansive and beyond imagination in some ways – they’re grounded in physics and reality, and come across as real people who are put into these circumstances and rise to the occasion.’
That relatability is often missed in the translation. While a playthrough brings us closer to video game characters over time, strife and joy, movies need to do the groundwork for us. ‘I think that’s a problem you have with some video game movies I’ve seen in the past, I don’t have anybody to identify with,’ Brooks said.
There’s also Mortal Kombat‘s very nature to consider, as opposed to your narrative-based titles like The Last of Us, God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. ‘Games are different these days, right? They genuinely have storylines and actors and scripts. When you go back to the heart of MK, they’re fighting games. They’re different from what a movie is; they’re a 90-minute, three-act structure thing,’ Lawson said.
He continued: ‘They work against each other, I think that’s why they inherently feel unsatisfying, because it’s like… this game gave me one feeling, this movie gave me another, they’re different feelings. They’re two tough genres to meld sometimes.’
But even with that specific breed of re-playability, the MK lore is dense with a capital D. ‘Before going into the movie, I saw an eight-hour cut of all the cinematic scenes in the video game. Eight hours long! We have to find a story in that whole vast universe, and that’s just one portion of the video game, and there’s more than 10 games and expanded lore,’ Lin said.
Condensing is unavoidable, but one thing had to remain: authenticity. ‘I think one part of it is when the director and the studio chose the actors who’d portray those characters, they went with the approach of finding actors who had martial arts abilities and who were actually great fighters. That just helped to improve the movie overall. Then, having such a diverse cast. We’re from all places of the world,’ Huang said.
Coupled with a refreshing ensemble, there’s question on everyone’s lips in the lead-up to release: is it as violent as the games? Considering I watched a person sliced in half head-to-toe with a hat, it’s a firm yes from me. While not a huge player of the games, the notable inclusion of viscera put McNamee at ease.
‘We’ve also been allowed an R-rating by the studio, so we’re allowed to portray what people love about the game; the fatalities, the blood, the gore. You don’t often get to see these films in that rating bracket, often it doesn’t deliver in the way fans would want to see it. With the R-rating, it gave us the freedom to show those sides of the game fans love,’ she said.
Of course, Mortal Kombat had to make some changes – namely, operating within the framework of a movie, not a game. If you ‘finish him’, you can’t just play again.
‘For example, logical explanation in a fight scene,’ Taslim said. ‘In a game, Sub-Zero fights Scorpion. In the first 30 seconds, I break his arm and do a lot of crazy things… and then he just heals again, and we fight again, until the end. In a movie, once you break someone’s arm, it’s gonna break till the end. That’s the simple explanation.’
He continued: ‘We need to tell a story and the continuity of what happens to the character needs to follow to the end. In this movie, they did a pretty good job to balance telling Mortal Kombat as a movie and giving justice to the fans.’
You can rent the movie premiere of Mortal Kombat at home from May 6.
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