It’s common knowledge these days that film adaptations of video games are, more often than not, unsuccessful. The likes of 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and 2005’s Doom are evidence enough that the two mediums should stay separated, but the Mortal Kombat series warrants a discussion of its own. New Line Cinema’s Mortal Kombat movie from 1995, as well as its 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, failed to impress casual and die-hard fans alike thanks to their campiness, unnecessary whitewashing of the cast, and more. The films’ downfall caused the MK brand to drop off the cinema radar, leaving many to wonder if anyone would take a crack at adapting Ed Boon, John Tobias, Paulo Garcia, and John Edwards’ beloved gaming franchise ever again.
By the time 2016 rolled around, first-time director Simon McQuoid elected to answer the call, promising patient moviegoers a reboot of Mortal Kombat on the big screen (via Variety). It took a few years to get the project written, cast, and shot, but the heavy lifting is now over: Mortal Kombat is preparing for an April 16, 2021 hybrid release on both the HBO Max streaming service and in select theaters. To further build hype for this long-awaited retry, Warner Bros. dropped the first trailer for Mortal Kombat on February 18, 2021, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Here’s a rundown of the Mortal Kombat trailer, and the small details that may have slipped past you in the midst of its ultra-violent glory.
Right off the bat, the trailer for 2021’s Mortal Kombat gives audiences a good look at one of the property’s most prolific and popular entities: Sub-Zero, portrayed here by Joe Taslim. Throughout the trailer’s runtime, Sub-Zero gives everyone — from Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) to hapless, faceless soldiers – beatdowns unlike any they’ve suffered before. Not to mention, Sub-Zero also remorselessly tears Jackson "Jax" Briggs’ (Mehcad Brooks) arms from his body, setting him up to achieve his typically Ermac-induced cyborg destiny. Naturally, during his rampage, Sub-Zero utilizes his Cryomancer abilities — freezing his opponents and using ice-based weaponry against them. He even creates an ice wall, which gamers can perform when they play as Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat 11.
One interesting thing to note about this particular Sub-Zero incarnation is that his real name is Bi-Han, a fact that director McQuoid revealed in his trailer breakdown posted to IGN‘s YouTube channel. For longtime players of the Mortal Kombat video games, the name "Bi-Han" should ring some bells: He was the first to take on the Sub-Zero mantle.
Bi-Han appeared under the frosty alias only in the first Mortal Kombat game, where he quickly met his demise and granted his younger brother Kuai Liang the chance to follow in his footsteps. However, Bi-Han eventually rose from the grave as the villainous wraith Noob Saibot and continues to wreak havoc under this dark persona to this day. Could this be a plot point for a future Mortal Kombat movie sequel? Perhaps.
Cole Young, who are you?
Shifting gears away from an established name in the Mortal Kombat universe, the film’s trailer also introduces a fresh face to spruce up the decades-old roster of combatants. Cole Young, played by Lewis Tan, is a down-on-his-luck yet experienced cage fighter who’s called to join the legendary Mortal Kombat tournament (more on that later) courtesy of the mysterious, dragon-shaped birthmark on his chest. But there seems to be more to Cole than meets the eye — bearing in mind the frightening reflection of himself that he sees in a mirror. Nevertheless, Cole is framed as the film’s main protagonist, and only enters the competition to protect his loved ones, making him Mortal Kombat‘s emotional core.
McQuoid explained to IGN why he and his team felt the need to include Cole Young in the Mortal Kombat reboot, and his rationale is rather sound. "We felt it was okay to bring in a new character given that Mortal Kombat has, over the years, introduced new characters quite a bit," he said, reassuring everyone that Cole doesn’t detract from the slew of legacy characters. McQuoid also expanded on the newcomer’s function as a storytelling device, and how it should effect viewers who haven’t stepped into the MK world before. "As Cole learns, the audience learns, and it helps us bring in those fresh sets of eyes," he added.
A longstanding aspect of the Mortal Kombat mythos is the diverse range of realms — and the frequent universe-altering conflicts between their inhabitants. Locations like Netherrealm, Chaosrealm, Earthrealm, and more have hosted many of the canon’s brutal wars, and the upcoming film doesn’t have any desire to hide their existence.
In the Mortal Kombat trailer, fans catch a brief glimpse of Outworld, a realm governed by Shao Kahn. The footage shows the sai-wielding character Mileena (Sisi Stringer) walking through the land, appearing to be a realistic take on the barren-yet-mountainous wasteland gamers have come to recognize. Whether or not any other realms will appear in Mortal Kombat is up for debate, but it’s surely a possibility.
Speaking to IGN about what went into bringing Outworld to life for his Mortal Kombat adaptation, McQuoid revealed that he "wanted to bring a realism and an authenticity and a non-VFX feel to these unreal worlds." To do so, the director and his team managed to find an area on Earth that fit the look and feel of the famous fantasy location. "We shot this in a disused coal mine in the middle of Australia," McQuoid noted, citing how important it was to express the legitimacy of Outworld’s aesthetic and how surprisingly few digital enhancements were needed to bring it to life.
A tournament of legends
For the majority of the Mortal Kombat trailer, franchise favorite Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) provides narration over various clips. During her narration, she brings up an ancient legend about a "tournament of champions" that urges the selected participants to fight in the name of Mortal Kombat. In the games, the event was created to ensure Outworld’s power didn’t grow too strong — begging the questions, "Is the realm once again threatening the sanctity of the cosmos? And if so, who will bravely attempt to stop it?"
To answer the first question, the trailer for 2021’s Mortal Kombat provides a couple of hints as to who could be responsible for the takeover. Outworld’s ruler, Shao Kahn, isn’t shown in the flesh, but a statue of him makes a cameo in the trailer — indicating that he’s either out of the picture, or already dead by the time Mortal Kombat begins. Beyond Shao Kahn, the very-much alive Shang Tsung (Chin Han) — accompanied by his four-armed champion Goro — is a logical pick. The soul-stealing warlock is no stranger to stirring up trouble in the MK universe, becoming one of its most nefarious villains over the years.
Of course, what would the forces of evil be without the forces of good to oppose them? Aside from the aforementioned Jax Briggs, Cole Young, Scorpion, and Sonya Blade, the trailer also features a handful of other iconic Mortal Kombat characters. Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) will also join the fray to varying degrees.
Kano’s laser eye
About halfway through the Mortal Kombat movie trailer, Earthrealm’s champions are introduced in small vignettes accompanied by voiceovers. There’s Sonya Blade, Liu Kang, Jax, and, of course, Kano – who has a bitter rivalry with Sonya and is usually a villain in the Mortal Kombat universe but is now a sort-of-good guy in the forthcoming film. Kano doesn’t introduce himself like Sonya, Liu, and Jax do; instead, Sonya does the job in voiceover while viewers see footage of Kano shooting a red laser out of one of his eyes. It lasts for only a couple of seconds, but Kano’s laser eye holds a lot of weight in the Mortal Kombat world.
In the games, Kano is depicted as having a partial metal faceplate that covers one of his eyes. He had the faceplate implanted as a cybernetic enhancement following an injury Jax inflicted upon him before the start of the Mortal Kombat game series, and it’s outfitted with an infrared laser over his eye, allowing him to do some serious damage when battling his opponents with moves like Eye Laser, Upward Laser, Ear to Ear, Black Market, Burner, and more.
The movie version of Kano doesn’t have the faceplate but does have the laser eye, which suggests that this ability didn’t come as a result of an injury. Plus, considering Kano is also being portrayed as an anti-hero in 2021’s Mortal Kombat film, it’s even more unlikely that he gained his laser-beam-shooting eye after getting into a fight with Jax. Fans will just have to wait to see the movie themselves to learn what Kano’s new cinematic backstory will be.
Liu Kang’s dragon Fatality makes an appearance
Closer to the end of the film’s trailer, Liu Kang is seen summoning balls of fire to his hands, letting out a determined battle scream before he slams his hand down and lets a trail of fire snake its way across the ground in front of him. Perhaps "snake" was the wrong word to use here, as what appears after Liu lets his fire go is a massive, flaming dragon.
Video game fans will recognize this as Dragon Fire, Liu’s Fatality move that unleashes flames in the form of a Chinese dragon. Specifically, it appears to be a riff on the Low Dragon Fire (aka Low Fireball) version, since the dragon is sent forward on the ground first. Dragon Fire appeared in 1993’s Mortal Kombat II, and later evolved into what Mortal Kombat 9 and Mortal Kombat 11 call the High Fireball, where Liu can send the fiery dragon outward and into the air rather than having the dragon be restricted to the ground. There have been several variations and enhanced forms of the Dragon Fire move, including High Dragon Fire, Fire Wave, and Double Dragon.
The origins of Scorpion
In some of the Mortal Kombat trailer’s most exciting moments, we’re treated to a condensed version of Hanzo Hasashi’s metamorphosis into Scorpion. He’s first shown slinging around his trusty kunai for the first time, taking out a horde of bad guys in the woods. The next time viewers see him, he’s engulfed in his signature Hellfire and donning his samurai-inspired armor, ready for battle against his arch-enemy, Sub-Zero. The trailer includes a snippet of their clash, including the utterance of Scorpion’s famous "Get over here!" line, which dates back to his earliest Mortal Kombat game appearances.
Considering that he’s one of MK‘s tentpole figures, getting Scorpion right in live-action was of the utmost importance to McQuoid. That included sticking the landing with his origin and transformation, which the director hoped to chronicle throughout the movie. "What I wanted to do was literally show Scorpion being born, and the ingredients in how he comes about," McQuoid told IGN, going on to discuss the opening fight sequence featuring Hasashi. He described it as "brutal and nasty," and based on the clips from the trailer, that assessment isn’t too far off.
It’s no secret that the Mortal Kombat video games aren’t for the faint of heart. They’re gory, gruesome, and sometimes cringe-worthy, and that reputation doesn’t come from simple side-scrolling punches and kicks. Fatalities — moves unique to each character that spotlight mutilating, match-ending animations — are a bloody staple of the IP. Given their cinematic nature, it should come as no surprise that they’re included in the upcoming Mortal Kombat movie. The final moments of the trailer show Kano happily tearing out someone’s beating heart.
"The Fatalities were always in from the get-go," McQuoid told IGN, confirming that everyone involved in the making of Mortal Kombat was on-board with their inclusion from the top down. Even still, he admitted, "There’s certainly restrictions on what you can do. And some of the restrictions are sort of strange and surprising, and some of them are kind of obvious." The director noted that the goal was to "push it to the limit," but he didn’t want to include such graphic scenes without necessary context or story weight to them.
From fan-favorite characters to recognizable locales, this Mortal Kombat trailer has it all. If nothing else, at least it gives everyone multiple points to speculate on in the weeks before the film opens to the public.