Words: Stephen Wilds
For fans who didn't bother with the lore, players who quit after the 16-bit series, or those who want to know more before viewing a fun video game-based action flick, I'm here to refresh everyone on some Mortal Kombat basics before the new Simon McQuoid-directed movie arrives, in April 2021.
The new film - just delayed slightly to April 23rd - strays from the canon of both timelines. (Yes, there are two.) The original games and 3D-era releases are touched upon with plot foundations and character inclusions, but some finer details and tone come from Raiden's soft reboot to save the world in Mortal Kombat 9, which retooled the history with a compressed, fresh take on the lore. The core story beats and character traits should still make it onto the screen, and knowing those will help sort out what's going on when the odd creatures and colour-coded ninja start fighting.
The 2021 movie has already surprised fans by adding a new character, despite a large existing roster. Cole Young, an MMA fighter in a rut, will enter a crazy world of magic and tournament fighting, just like the new fans. More than just a new face and taped fists, Cole will likely tie into the greater lore somehow, possibly turning out to be anyone from Takeda Takahashi to The One Being. But those are much deeper cuts, and most importantly, we were reassured that Cole is not actually series regular Johnny Cage, who is absent from the film altogether. The JCVD-inspired actor is reportedly being held back for the desired sequel, or even a potential cinematic universe.
Earthrealm - where we are, basically (yes, you, reading this, now) - needs heroes, and thankfully, people are willing to fight for it. Jax and Sonya Blade of the Special Forces feature prominently in the new movie's trailers, and have been in the game series since its humble beginnings.
Jackson "Jax" Briggs debuted in Mortal Kombat II and is recognisable by his metal arms - arms we know he's forced to use after an unfortunate run-in with Sub-Zero. In the current in-game timeline, his de-arming happens at the hands of another ninja named Ermac, but it being the Cryomancer makes sense for the movie, and gives Jax ample motivation. Sonya Blade, from the original Mortal Kombat of 1992 and the roster's first female character, is tough, determined, and focused on her mission: usually tracking down Kano, who killed her partner.
In 2021's Mortal Kombat, it looks like Jax and Sonya are recruiting for the defence of their realm, and they've picked up a mercenary - this version of Mortal Kombat's own Kano. This leader of the Black Dragon criminal organisation had his origin changed to Australian after the first Mortal Kombat movie of 1995. While normally one of the main antagonists for the Special Forces, Kano fights alongside them in this film; but betrayal is likely in his future, no doubt giving Sonya and Jax reason enough to try to kill him later.
The trio aren't alone in their fight. While some warriors just stumble across the tournaments, the White Lotus Society dedicate themselves to the defence of Earthrealm. Many of their members are monks from the Order of Light, like Liu Kang and Kung Lao. The Bruce Lee-like Liu Kang has traditionally been the hero at the centre of Mortal Kombat stories since the first game, but he looks to take a backseat to Cole in the 2021 film, giving up his place as the fighter with the greatest destiny.
Kung Lao, meanwhile, usually plays a distant second fiddle to his fellow monk, but he is driven by a desire to live up to his family name and in the new timeline prove himself equal to or better than Liu Kang. Debuting in Mortal Kombat II, Kung Lao was originally a pacifist who only fought when necessary, but his fighting skills and weapon of choice - his iconic bladed hat - show he is not opposed to violence when needed. The pair are typically mentored by Raiden, god of thunder and wielder of lightning. An icon since the first game, Raiden normally assembles the combatants who will fight for Earthrealm, as its god and protector.
More famously, we have Sub-Zero and Scorpion, ice and fire, or the blue and yellow-clad ninja respectively, fight in the tournaments, but usually have their own agendas or vendettas. Series co-creator John Tobias once described the two's relationship perfectly as, "a bloody tale of revenge so strong that a man crawled back from the depths of hell to achieve it." Sub-Zero is an assassin for hire from the Lin Kuei clan of ninja, cruel and cold-blooded, unlike his younger brother who later takes up the mantle.
Sub-Zero's clan has a longstanding rivalry with the Shirai Ryu, which Scorpion belongs to. The conflict is that Scorpion believes Sub-Zero is responsible for his death, the murder of his wife and son, as well as the slaughter of his people. Scorpion sometimes fights for the other side, when it fits his purpose, but this anti-hero wraith's goal is vengeance. However, it appears Sub-Zero might be a revenant (resurrected dead) himself in 2021's Mortal Kombat, giving the tale a twist.
The frost ninja works for one of the true bad guys, Shang Tsung. A shape-shifting sorcerer, formally of Earthrealm, Shang Tsung now fights for Outworld and absorbs souls to keep his power. He's aided by Mileena, a sadistic female ninja who looks alluring - and is quite deadly with her twin sais - until her true face is revealed. She's a clone of Princess Kitana, who's absent from trailers, but her trademark blue fan weapon is on display.
Kabal is scarred after a run-in with invading forces from Outworld, but his superhuman speed and hook swords (which we so briefly see in the trailer, above) make him a terror to deal with. His allegiances are muddied, as the former cop sometimes works with the Black Dragon, but he does fight for good, and lately just looks out for himself. More frightening in appearance still are what most believe in the trailer to be Reptile - originally another palette-swapped ninja, but actually a lizard-like creature that can turn invisible and spit acid - as well as Goro, a four-armed Prince of the Shokan, a fearsome race who share traits with dragons.
There is a good chance viewers will see a cameo from Nitara, the vampire, and at least a statue of Shao Kahn, ruler of Outworld and Shang Tsung's boss, who sent everyone to conquer Earthrealm and absorb it in the first place. Fans are hopeful Smoke and Noob Saibot (the creator's names backward) might also show up.
But whoever appears in the new movie, be sure to have fun, and carefully follow the characters and their unfolding plots. Because if the past of Mortal Kombat tells us anything, it's that the franchise's future is unlikely to be straightforward.
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