For a game series known for brutal fighting and gory fatalities, “Mortal Kombat” has a surprisingly deep lore, and the new movie adaptation digs into it. So some of the finer points of the story can get lost in the shuffle, especially if you’re not already familiar with Outworld.
Here’s your warning that spoilers are ahead.
Who Started The Tournament?
“Mortal Kombat” is pretty ruthlessly efficient with its story setup. Two dimensions: Our dimension, Earthrealm, and Outworld are locked in a centuries-long battle for control. Occasionally, champions for both sides go head-to-head in the Mortal Kombat fighting tournament. The first dimension to win Mortal Kombat ten times gets control of the other. As the movie opens, Outworld is leading with nine wins to Earthrealm zero, but an ancient prophecy that says a hero will emerge on Earthrealm, unite its heroes, and turn the tide. Since we’re coming in on the tenth tournament, we don’t know all the history. Who set this whole thing up? Why did they decide that a fighting tournament was the best way to determine dominance? How did ten become the magic number? Where did the prophecy regarding Hanzo Hasashi’s descendants come from, and why should we believe it?
“Mortal Kombat” alludes to some elder gods whose rules are “set in stone” but that’s not really an explanation, especially since both sides break those rules with no real consequence. Maybe the inevitable sequel will dive a little deeper into these questions. Or maybe it’s a lot of backstory that isn’t really necessary if the audience just wants bone-shattering action.
Who Did Jax And Kano Kill?
There are apparently two ways to get the mysterious dragon marks that designate someone as a mortal kombatant and give them arcana-based powers. You can be born with one, or you can earn one by killing someone with the mark. Hanzo Hasashi’s direct descendent, Cole Young, was born with his.
“He was born with it.”
“It’s not a birthmark, Cole. It means you’ve been chosen.”
Sonya Blade, though, had to earn her mark the hard way. She got hers by killing Kano. Sonya explains that Jax and Kano also got their marks by force. Jax received his after tracking down a fugitive as part of his military duties. Kano killed the target Jax and Sonya were tracking once they began investigating the marks. “Mortal Kombat” doesn’t clue us in to who these two people were, however. The closest that we get is a newspaper clipping on Sonya’s wall as she tells Cole all about Jax’s backstory scattered among the headlines, there’s something about the mysterious death of a famous boxer. But there’s no explicit link between the late athlete and Jax, and the clipping’s position on the board would indicate that he’s more likely part of Cole’s mysterious past. If these people had dragon marks, it stands to reason that they were probably pretty important. But their identities remain unknown.
What Happened To Raiden’s Temple?
Raiden has been at this whole Mortal Kombat thing for a long time. He pops up in the movie’s prologue, rescuing Hanzo Hasashi’s daughter to make sure the prophecy is upheld. And he’s still fighting centuries later, as Shang Tsung decides he’s going to preemptively take out all of Earthrealm’s champions and win the latest Mortal Kombat tournament before it even begins.
Raiden’s temple has been around for a while too, but it wasn’t always so quiet. When Liu Kang welcomes Cole, Sonya, and Kano to the temple, he notes that it was once a place of worship. Presumably, Raiden once had many followers who flocked to the holy site. It’s not clear what changed to leave it so desolate and abandoned.
There are a few other mysteries regarding Raiden’s temple, too. Like, how did Kano know where it is? Sonya seems to think the temple is very well hidden, but Kano implies that people can’t stop talking about it. Either Sonya and Jax are terrible investigators, or Kano knows more than he’s letting on.
What About The Other Realms?
“Mortal Kombat” is lousy with alternate dimensions, but the movie only shows us to a few: Earthrealm, Outworld and Netherrealm, which is basically Hell. It’s only very briefly shown, and it notably shares a name with the development studio that’s been making Mortal Kombat games for the past decade or so. But there are other realms, too, which the movie doesn’t have time to explore. The video games have fleshed out the franchise’s multiverse to an absurd degree, though. In addition to the three realms already mentioned, the games have also introduced players to Edenia, a fairy tale-like fantasy world; Orderrealm, where law reigns supreme; the anything-goes Chaosrealm; and Heaven, which is, well, heaven. It’s never made clear whether the new movie universe follows the same cosmology, although hints may be lurking in some of the film’s better hidden Easter eggs. Honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Edenia make an appearance in a sequel – at least one fan-favorite character, Kitana, makes the realm her home.
Where Is Kitana?
Speaking of Kitana, where is she hiding? The writers of “Mortal Kombat” deserve credit for pulling some pretty deep cuts from the franchise’s expansive roster, but those surprises come at a cost. Relatively obscure characters like Nitara and Reiko get a spotlight, but we never see far better known characters like Jade, Kenshi, Smoke, or Shao Kahn. That’s especially true of Kitana, a mainstay in the games since “Mortal Kombat II.” Given her close ties to Mileena, who features prominently in “Mortal Kombat,” you’d think she’d be in the movie. In the games, Mileena and Kitana are twins, at least of a sort. For most of her life, Kitana worked as an Outworld assassin, and believed that she and Mileena were sisters. Only later did she discover the reality of the situation: Kitana is the princess of Edenia, and Mileena isn’t a relative, but her evil clone. In fairness, that’s a lot of extra story for a movie that’s already packed with characters, but given Mileena’s fate in “Mortal Kombat,” it’s a shame that Kitana didn’t get a chance to share the screen with her “sister” at least once. Given Kitana’s popularity and links to the rest of the “Mortal Kombat” cast, her absence is a little baffling.
What Are The Lin Kuei, Shirai Ryu, And Shokan?
The “Mortal Kombat” movie does a pretty good job of bringing a lot of the game lore to life on the screen. Bi-Han, better known as Sub Zero, mentions the Lin Kuei a few times. Scorpion fights for the Shirai Ryu. Goro [GORE-oh], Shang Tsung’s four-armed minion, is hailed as the prince of the Shokan. The movie doesn’t have time to explain what all of these words mean, though. So fans of the games may have cheered at their mention, while others scratched their heads.
“Get over here!”
If the movie is following the game’s story, the Lin Kuei and the Shirai Ryu are competing groups of martial artists. The Lin Kuei, Sub-Zero’s clan, hails from China. At some point, a Japanese-born ninja broke off from the group and founded the Shirai Ryu, leading to a long rivalry. The Shokan, meanwhile, are a race of half-dragon, half-human warriors who value strength above all else. Even the king and queen’s children must fight among themselves to determine the one true heir. “Mortal Kombat” is filled with game lingo like that, so if you want an explanation for terms like Bo’ Rai Cho or references to the Wu Shi Academy, look to the games.
What Happened Between Kano And Kabal?
Wisecracking merc Kano and armor-clad warrior Kabal have a history. According to Kabal, Kano is the reason he’s hidden under a hulking metal suit. Want to know more? Too bad. “Mortal Kombat” establishes that the two characters have a fractious relationship, but the specifics remain a mystery. Clearly, Kano and Kabal’s falling out has something to do with the Black Dragon, which according to the games’ story, is a criminal cabal made up of mercenaries. Kano is its leader, Kabal was one of the group’s members, and Jax was the Special Forces operative tasked with bringing the whole thing down. A big difference between the games and the movie, in fact, is that in the games, Jax, not Reptile, is responsible for Kano’s facial scars. The movie seems like it’s switched a few other things up a little. It sure doesn’t sound like Kano’s in charge of the Black Dragon anymore, and we don’t know why he and Kabal fought, what happened to the Black Dragon, or what specifically Kabal offered him to switch sides. This is something that could get more attention in a later “Mortal Kombat” movie, but given the way that both characters ended up, it seems like this story thread may just be left dangling.
Could The Dead Characters Come Back?
“Mortal Kombat” manages to squeeze every character from the first game, except Johnny Cage, who’s clearly being saved for the next installment, and most from the second into the movie. And it adds a bunch more characters from later entries in the series. It also manages to kill a ton of them off. Kano, Reptile, Goro, Mileena, Kung Lao, and Sub-Zero all die in brutal, bloody fashion, making their appearance in any sequels pretty unlikely. Or is it? These are some of the most iconic characters in the entire franchise, and it’s hard to imagine a “Mortal Kombat” movie without them. Sub-Zero will be easy to replace without deviating too far from established canon. In the games, the Sub-Zero mantle is taken up by Bi-Han’s younger brother, Kuai Liang. But the movie introduces a loophole for everyone else, too. After all, Hanzo Hasashi dies in the pre-credit sequence, only to return at the film’s climax stronger than ever. Who’s to say the rest of the kombatants can’t do the same?
Has the tournament even started?
The movie “Mortal Kombat” might have ended before the Mortal Kombat tournament even really got under way. Shang Tsung’s evil scheme, after all, is to hunt down and take out Earthrealm’s forces before the tournament begins, leaving his side with a victory by default.
“We will not fail. Kill them.”
Ultimately, Cole Young rallies the good guys and decides to fight Tsung’s warriors on his own terms, but other than a throwaway line about bringing the tournament to them, there’s no indication that Mortal Kombat ever started. The movie implies quite the opposite. When Young and the rest first arrive at Raiden’s temple, Liu Kang hints that the tournament is about a month away, and it sure doesn’t seem like anyone spends more than a few days training.
But when the movie ends, it’s also heavily implied Earthrealm has won. That means one of a few things have happened. One, maybe the movie’s sense of time is just skewed, and the one-on-one battles that make up the film’s climax comprise the actual tournament. Two, with Outworld’s forces decimated, the tournament has been postponed or canceled. Three, the tournament is still going to happen at the designated date, and we just haven’t gotten there yet. That last option seems absurd, but it also explains why Young wants to get to Hollywood to recruit Johnny Cage as quickly as possible.
“Mortal Kombat” fatalities are a piece of video game history.
The gruesome finishing moves were so controversial that they were one of the catalysts for the video game industry creating the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the organization that slaps movie-like content ratings on games. Midway, the company that originally developed and published “Mortal Kombat,” didn’t respond by cutting out fatalities, though. Instead, it stuffed later “Mortal Kombat” titles full of alternative finishing moves, some of which poked fun at the scandal. In an Animality, a player’s character transforms into a beast, then proceeds to maul their opponent. A Friendship is like an anti-Fatality, ending the match with a peaceful gesture, like blowing bubbles or giving an opponent a birthday cake. Quitalities are reserved for players who disconnect during online matches, while Hari-Kiris let defeated players off themselves.
The most memorable, though, are Babalities, which turn rival fighters into infants. Sadly, while “Mortal Kombat” is full of classic fatalities, remember when Kano rips out Reptile’s heart? Yeah, you’ve seen that before the movie is entirely Babality free. At least we do see a few friendships blossom.
Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Looper videos about your favorite movies are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the bell so you don’t miss a single one.
Watch The Video Below! 👇