The world of the "Mortal Kombat" series focuses on six major realms: Earthrealm (Earth), Outworld, Neatherrealm (also called Hell), Edenia (also called Eden), Chaosrealm, and Orderrealm. Each were created by the Elder Gods out of a powerful defeated being known as the One Being. Over time, a series of rulers emerged in Outworld, each wanting conquest of the other realms — including Onaga and Shao Khan. After conquering many opponents, Shao Kahn sent Shang Tsung to establish the Mortal Kombat tournament between his armies and Earthrealm, with one simple rule: if Shao Khan’s warriors defeated Earth’s 10 times in a row, he takes Earthrealm.
In Simon McQuoid’s "Mortal Kombat" (2021), the latest cinematic entry in the multimedia video game franchise, the world of "Mortal Kombat" has never looked better onscreen. With a new character in lead protagonist Cole Young (whose lineage stems to Hanzo Hasashi, aka Scorpion), lovely cinematography, electric fight choreography, and some great performances (alongside fatalities that properly call back the violence of the beloved video games), it’s a fun cinematic outing for "Mortal Kombat" fans.
Unfortunately, while the story is a fun outing that succeeds in bringing together many fan-favorite fighters, some of its plot threads, character actions, and major scenes suffer from plot holes that can’t easily be brushed aside. Sure, few films have perfect logic — but some of these issues complicate major characters and narrative threads that have a major impact on the story. Here are a few "Mortal Kombat" plot holes that everyone ignored.
Shang Tsung’s plan makes no sense
"Mortal Kombat" begins at a dire moment: Outworld will invade if Earthrealm loses one more tournament. At the same time, an ancient prophecy states that Earthrealm will see new champions arise "by the rise of Hanzo Hasashi’s blood." With this looming prophecy about Hanzo Hasashi’s bloodline, Tsung wants to eliminate the remainder of Earthrealm’s warriors in advance of the tournament so it isn’t possible for Earthrealm to win. The only problem with that plan is that none of it makes sense.
Shang Tsung’s conversation with Mileena about sending the reptilian assassin is telling — she worries that Raiden may discover their breakage of "rules set in stone by the Elder Gods", and he responds that they didn’t "win nine straight tournaments by following the rules." Later, when he invades Lord Raiden’s temple with Sub-Zero and Mileena, he is confronted by Raiden, who notes "It is forbidden to claim victory until the tournament begins." Shang Tsung replies "You are correct, Thunder God, but conflict outside of Mortal Kombat is not forbidden … besides, the other Gods are too lazy to stop me." There are quite a few problems with this logic.
Shang Tsung acknowledges they’ve managed to cheat enough to win nine times in a row without thus far getting caught. Why doubt their ability to do so now? They also maintain so much confidence that they can brazenly sabotage the tournament altogether — without the gods noticing? Killing Earthrealm warriors outside Mortal Kombat won’t win the right to invade Earthrealm.
Basically, Shang Tsung inexplicably takes a much more complicated, brazen path towards cheating than just fighting the tournament like before. His logic rests on the gods being lazy, but if that’s true, why not cheat in tournament? And if he’s going to cheat anyway, why now? Why not earlier, between tournaments when Earth’s marked defenders would be teenagers? None of it quite adds up.
Liu Kang is very bad at his job
Liu Kang says that "it has been my charge to gather all the champions of Earth", who at the start of the film are scattered. The trouble is that he’s extremely bad at his job. We become aware through conversations between Sonya Blade and Cole Young that 1) she and Jax had long been aware of a number of marked champions, and 2) many were dead, since Liu Kang notes "there are not many of us with the markings left." The series of events itself starts in motion because Sub-Zero had found Cole (bringing him, Jax, and Sonya together), and had almost killed Jax and Cole.
Meanwhile Cole, Sonya, and Kano make their way towards the temple of Lord Raiden because Sonya just happens to be part of a group who has connected all these dots and Kano happens to know the location Lord Raiden’s temple. When they get there — no thanks to Liu Kang — he seems surprised to see them. "At last!", he exclaims, "finally, you have come to seek out Raiden’s temple." Despite the apparent urgency of needing to gather all the champions of Earth for an all-important Tournament that’s about a month away, Liu Kang was seemingly content to just wait and hang out on the off chance it all worked out.
For someone charged with bringing together Earthrealm’s champions, at no point did Liu Kang find, bring, or train any champions. Marked champions seem to be dying all the time and we have no evidence he intervened at any point to gather or protect them. The entire reason it all worked out is because Cole was saved by Jax, shepherded by the unmarked Sonya, and guided by Kano (who isn’t even supposed to have the mark), and Liu Kang had no evident role in any of those events. Case in point: when our protagonists arrived it, was no thanks to Liu Kang’s evident actions – and he seemed surprised. If he’s supposed to be gathering the heroes of Earthrealm, he’s absolutely and completely terrible at it.
It doesn’t make sense to train just any Dragon-Mark Holder
When Sonya Blade, Cole Young, and Kano arrive at Lord Raiden’s temple, Liu Kang and Kung Lao immediately take to training them. Cole, Kano, and Jax each have the dragon mark, and with Jax recovering they take to training Cole and Kano. The issue: Kano from the get-go is a rough, disrespectful, power-hungry narcissist with a criminal background. They train him with the rest until they discover his arcana — and he easily becomes persuaded by Shang Tsung’s forces with the promise of more power. He compromises the defenses of Lord Raiden’s temple, and engages the heroes in combat with the arcana they helped him attain.
Here’s the complication with training anyone who enters the temple: warriors can absolutely change sides and betray Earthrealm with their powers, helping Outworld’s conquest of the realm. With a small number of fighters, losing one to the other side is a pretty big change in the balance of forces. Why, then, train literally anyone as soon as they enter, especially if they seem like a shady character?
Liu Kang gained his powers when he was assigned to kill a mark-bearer who was a truly bad person … did that happen only the one time? Meanwhile, Liu Kang and Kung Lao had a number of viable choices with Kano: put Kano through some worthiness tests, turn him away, or kill him if he showed his true colors. Any of these options would have made more sense than training him just to, in effect, provide Outworld with a new super-soldier. The bottom line is that training just anyone inevitably results in training individuals who are at best liabilities and at worst potential future enemies.
Sonya doesn’t belong there
When Sonya Blade meets Cole, the first thing she wants to know is if he has the dragon mark. This is admittedly strange coming someone who doesn’t have the mark, but it underscores the importance in all this of having been chosen as one of the warriors of Earthrealm. When she, Cole, and Kano arrive at Lord Raiden’s temple, they’re reminded repeatedly how important the marking is. Raiden reinforces to Cole how without his Arcana — which one needs the Mark to get — he’s really of no use to the fight. Liu Kang repeatedly reiterates how you’re a liability without being chosen and having your Arcana. Mileena refuses to kill Sonya because, without the mark, she has no value in the scheme of the struggle between realms.
With all this in mind: why is Sonya there? She’s a great character and a pivotal part of the plot but, in terms of the story, it doesn’t make sense. She’s let into Raiden’s temple and is basically involved with all of the conflict with Shang Tsung. She’s even pulled by Raiden into his void to prepare for the final plan, all before she duels Kano and kills him and gains the mark. Given the rules that are continually reinforced, the strict messaging that people without Arcana are a liability, and their irrelevance towards the ‘scheme of things’, Sonya’s repeated deep involvement (by Raiden no less, in fact) makes no sense.
Sonya also should have killed Kano
When Cole meets Sonya, they have one strange guest tied to a chair: Kano. He had just gained his dragon mark through killing the fate-chosen champion they’d been looking for, thus securing a mark for himself. At this point Jax had already gained a dragon mark, but Sonya had not. She eventually learns of the marks, their importance for signifying Earth’s champion defenders in the Mortal Kombat tournament, and that the tournament is pivotal in protecting Earthrealm. She knows the stakes are high, that not having a mark impedes her ability to fight for Earth, and that killing a mark-bearer transfers the mark to the victor.
Sonya had all this knowledge, and she had drop on a criminal scumbag like Kano who had just killed a champion of Earth. They subdue him enough to disarm and chain the villain, and at this point Sonya isn’t aware that he knows the location of Lord Raiden’s temple. There is no reason to keep around a criminal murderer who killed one of Earth’s champions, especially when the stakes are so high and he has the mark that would allow her to protect the Earth.
Heroes are often written to avoid killing out of some heroic code, but as a soldier her whole life is a testament to being willing to kill threats when necessary. Given so much at stake and her background, capturing Kano rather than taking his mark was an inexplicable choice for her character to make. Moreover, had she killed him, Earth would have had one more champion against the apocalypse — and one less enemy of humanity.
Raiden’s intervention strategy is terribly inconsistent
As far as protectors of Earthrealm go, Raiden is quite inconsistent. In Hanzo Hasashi’s life, Raiden doesn’t intervene when Bi-Han kills him, and he allows the assassin to kill Hanzo and his family. He also saves Hanzo Hasashi’s infant daughter to protect the lineage, and keeps his kunai to facilitate Scorpion’s later emergence when Earthrealm needed it. Raiden continually asserts he’s "not allowed to intervene" despite this initial intervention, a pattern he continues.
The biggest inconsistency, however, is when Shang Tsung and his fighters arrive in Raiden’s temple in force, and Raiden intervenes to pull the Earthrealm defenders into the void between realms. He pulls Sonya and Jax, and Cole before Sub-Zero knocks him out of Raiden’s teleportation zone. Sub-Zero proceeds to attack Cole before Kung Lao intervenes and is pulled to Shang Tsung, who promptly consumes his soul. Immediately afterwards, Liu Kang and Cole are teleported away.
Jax asks "Lord Raiden, why couldn’t you save him?", to which Raiden replies "Elder Gods are forbidden from engaging in one realm’s war against another … it is my job to protect Earthrealm but I cannot save every soul within it" — except he literally just intervened. Raiden intervened so much that he managed to save every other Earthrealm champion … and even pulls Kung Lao’s Razor-Rimmed Hat into the teleportation lightning at the last second, just not the warrior himself.
It is woefully unclear how ‘arcana’ works
The new "Mortal Kombat" film introduces a further innovation to the "MK" universe, beyond the creation of Cole Young: arcana. The dragon markings mean you’re a chosen champion, and chosen champions struggle to activate their arcana: their unique power. Arcana is unique to the individual — it can be Kano’s laser eye, Liu Kang’s fire powers, Cole’s brass armor and weapons. It’s unpredictable, powerful, and highly individuated … and woefully unclear.
Liu Kang informs Kano, Cole, and Sonya of the importance of having a marking and finding your personal arcana. He explains to everyone that "If you fail to discover your inner power, you will never defeat your opponent." He directly addresses the unmarked Sonya, "They will ravage everything you hold dear." It’s unclear why he’s even talking to Sonya because she can’t discover her power and doesn’t have a mark. Later, Liu Kang clarifies that "Your inner power comes from the arcana, a gift from the marking of the dragon. The point of your training is to unlock that power. Without it, defeating Outworld will be impossible." How does that work? A variety of competing explanations. "In the fight pit, you will discover yours," he first explains, later clarifying that "It must come from your soul … whatever it is that drives you." Later still, "Pain is the ultimate catalyst" towards finding the arcana.
Here’s where it stops making sense. First, it manifests in random and individual ways, but Cole’s emerges from his daughter’s strength bracelet. If she didn’t make that, would his arcana be entirely different? Second, Liu Kang seems entirely convinces arcana manifests from pain in the process of fighting in the pits, but that’s not what activates arcana for almost any character, and the relationship between getting the mark and the arcana is seemingly random. Liu Kang kills a child trafficker on assignment and gets his arcana immediately in the process. Sonya gets her mark and her arcana by killing Kano. Kano got his from his ego being wounded. Cole is born with his mark and no fights nor dangers activate arcana until his family is in danger. Jax kills, gets his mark … and doesn’t get arcana until his arms are ripped off, he’s supernaturally given new arms, and Sonya’s endangered. Why is the emergence so randomly timed, the form so arbitrary — and why does Liu Kang think it’s related to fighting when it isn’t?
Being Chosen is either too chaotic or too planned
Earthrealm is under threat from Outworld, and dragon-marked warriors are the chosen champions of the realm. Some champions are chosen by birthright, like Cole (who has a champion’s lineage stemming from Hanzo Hasashi), and Kung Lao (descendant of the Great Kung Lao, a former champion). Most champions in the 2021 "Mortal Kombat" film, however, achieve their marking by murder: Jax killed a marked military target, Liu Kang killed an assigned target, Kano killed a marked individual, and Sonya killed Kano. It should be noted that the victims of Liu Kang, Sonya, and presumably Jax were all terrible people, and that empowered but morally terrible champions can betray Earth and join Outworld — there’s a long track record of marked people being easy targets for Outworld corruption, and good marked individuals being killed.
Since it’s apparently easy for chosen marked individuals to be killed or corrupted, the whole process of choosing Earth’s champions is suspect. It seems easy for morally corrupt warriors to occur, and there’s the other factor of adequate warriors: when we meet Cole, he’s not that great a fighter. What gives him an arcana advantage is the transformation of the strength bracelet his daughter made into an energy-absorbing armor-and-weapon set.
Being chosen as one of Earthrealm’s warriors seems to have no real relation to moral quality or combat skill – unless that relationship is so overwhelmingly determined that minutia like Cole’s daughter’s choice for a strength-bracelet or a villain’s killing of a chosen hero (so that a better chosen hero can kill them) are all part of a master-plan. In short, the process of being chosen is either fully random, poorly planned, or controlled to the point where we have no free will. Either way, we’re doomed.