Mortal Kombat has surprising appeal, for a story that boils down to fantasy people bloodying each other up repeatedly. It panders to the obvious demographic, but it also has a pretty interesting mythology. The original film, back in 1995, mainly worked because of its time. Translating such a video game franchise actually fit with campy 90’s cheese. But since Mortal Kombat: Legacy, it’s been made clear that the Mortal Kombat universe can also entertain a different tone. Now that a studio reboot finally has some traction, let’s break down some necessary things it will need to be successful, as well as some horrendous mistakes that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation proved this franchise should seriously avoid.
10 Needs: Fatalities
It was always troublesome that the original film aimed for PG-13, possibly to welcome younger audiences. That’s just ridiculous, because any fan of the game has seen far worse. It's an absolute relief that the reboot will incorporate a higher level of gore. It shouldn’t rely on it as a crutch, no.
But that level of blood was always a result of the stark and gritty lore of its vicious characters. The stories are full of deceit, betrayal, and murder. And fatalities are the signature, all-encapsulating feature of this universe. They’re creatively demented, and sometimes, even amusing. That’s basically Mortal Kombat in a nutshell.
9 Avoid: Poor CGI
Production value is especially important in a fantasy movie. The concepts already seem goofy enough, that if the money isn’t there, it just falls flat. There’s plenty of people out there that can tell a great Mortal Kombat story. We’ve gotten more than a few in the video games. But the point of giving someone studio money is to allow them to successfully bring an elaborate world to life. And yet, even though CGI is used for mundane scenes and alien planets alike, it’s often just a crutch. Entire franchises rely on CGI alone. The Mortal Kombat reboot should keep CGI to a minimum. This way, the world can feel more immersive, and when effects are used, they will look even better.
8 Needs: Genuine Martial Arts
In case nobody noticed, the entire Mortal Kombat game series is hinged on martial arts. For some reason, the hand-to-hand combat was absolutely dreadful in the original film. The closest you had to a genuine fight scene involved Scorpion. But movies have come too far now, including more realistic fighting sequences. From Jason Bourne to John Wick, martial artists use their environment effectively, and harness more practical techniques. But it would be incredible to have actual martial artists play these apex champions of combat. Fighting will undoubtedly be front and center in the reboot, as it should be. So, it also has to be entertaining, and still live up to today’s standards.
7 Avoid: Non-Canon Lore
Video game movies have a bad habit of borrowing licenses and ignoring canon. Filmmakers assume that having the IP is enough. That they can use it to simply bring their own vision to life, with a completely different story and tone.
That’s generally a pretty bad idea, for any kind of film adaptation. But every single character in the Mortal Kombat universe has an in-depth backstory and clear motivations. Fans are more knowledgeable about them than you think, and casual moviegoers won’t know the difference. So you might as well stick to the continuity that will serve your target audience.
6 Needs: Fan Service
After waiting for so long between live-action representations of this elaborate universe, fans want to be rewarded. We’ve had decades to get to know these characters and their stories, and we want that to be acknowledged appropriately. References to the games and other previous incarnations should remain few and far apart, but present nonetheless. For example, a nod to the original theme song, perhaps for the credits. But truthfully, we also want to know that the filmmakers actually understand the franchise they’re diving into. Video game adaptations on film are notoriously terrible. But we can just play the video game whenever we want the pure Mortal Kombat experience. Fan service is basically the catalyst for adapting it, so get it right.
5 Avoid: Missing Characterization
On the same note as differing lore, it’s always frustrating when characters aren’t properly represented. While including familiar characters is obvious for any adaptation, video game movies always shoot themselves in the foot. They have the names, and the look, but they act completely out of character. This franchise has been around for way too long to claim ignorance. Besides, many of the characters are already intriguing. They are filled with countless vendettas and alliances, built on understandable and straightforward reasons. The Mortal Kombat reboot is probably going to end up with non-stop fighting. But none of that means anything without some form of character development. So, just take what’s already there. That’s why you purchased the rights to begin with! It isn’t as hard as Hollywood makes it.
4 Needs: Great Actors
It may be possible that some actors don’t feel they have to put in any effort if the source material is silly. So, we don’t just mean “great” in the sense that they’re talented. They definitely need that, to be sure, but they also have to fit the role—and enjoy it. There’s a reason Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa has been cemented in the history of the franchise. For some reason, filmmakers generally don’t even bother with casting skilled actors for the genre of video game adaptation. But even if your effects and dialogue are sub-par, a good cast can sell it anyway. It feels like Hollywood often assumes the worst of video game fans’ tastes and expectations.
3 Avoid: Imbalanced Tone
Although the video game franchise has a number of clichés, and even one-liners, Mortal Kombat doesn’t actually have much camp. The right kind of cheese can be fun, but now we’ve seen both possible tones. And the games have sustained such a darker tone, it’d seem strange not to lean on the serious side. As long as there’s some fun comic relief sprinkled in. It’s going to be undeniably tough for the filmmakers to keep the reboot in check. Campy tones can easily get out of hand. However, a serious tone can also feel out of place in a world with half-human, half-dragon people. But all you have to do is actually familiarize yourself with the games, and it’ll all come into place. That’s what made Detective Pikachu, and even Tomb Raider, seem so much closer to successful adaptations.
2 Needs: Fun Cameos
This stands apart from fan service, because it’s a more delicate ingredient. The only way something like this can work, is if the movie doesn’t go all SyFy about it. Unless someone is outright reprising their role, cameos should be relegated to nuanced appearances. Or, even just Easter Eggs. And the cameos don’t just have to consist of actors from the original films. They can also include those involved with the games or web series. For all we know, this studio reboot will be another isolated incident. We could be left waiting even more years for another adaptation. So, make the most of it, and acknowledge those that continue to entertain fans.
1 Avoid: Redundancy
The plot should definitely be frenetic, pausing for breaths of character development. However, as much fun as it was to have one fight scene after another in 1995, that won’t do anymore. Yes, Mortal Kombat is a fighting game, and we want plenty of that. But the scenes need to be innovative, rather than repetitive. There’s plenty of successful and weak martial arts films alike, for reference. How many boxing films have you seen that simply involve one match after another? Pacing and creativity are so important when the crux of your story is a single element. Make the most of elaborate settings, intriguing relationships and anti-heroes, and genuine stakes to keep things fresh throughout the film.