In the era of the R rated blockbuster, Terry suggests the return of a studio gold mine.
ON SPEC is a column at Finickal created by Terry Erickson and Chris D'alessandro, where we take a popular franchise and, as writers, outlandishly speculate where it could head (but totally won't). Sometimes that means a left field story, other times it means a crossover, and sometimes it means both. We're just trying to have fun here.
It's been a hot minute since Paul W.S. Anderson had a crack at the first movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat. And while the less said about the sequel, the better, the first installment was a nice-if-not-superly-flawed summer film. Released in 1995 (22 years ago!), it landed at the absolute peak of the IP -- Mortal Kombat II dominated the arcades, and fans were frothing for the third installment.
The premise of the games, and the films on which they were based, was simple: The earth's best martial artists participate in a life-or-death inter-dimensional tournament, and battle for their "realm" to be spared from destruction. It's nothing you wouldn't see on the SyFy channel, but the merging of Lovecraftian horror and good, ol' fashioned Kung Fu obviously struck a chord with the masses, and it certainly did with me. It's Enter The Dragon with fucking monsters. It rules.
Which brings us to today. Netherrealm Studios (formerly Midway), the developers of Mortal Kombat, are currently enjoying consistent success of the IP, now in it's tenth iteration. Additionally, they've been doing gangbusters work with a DC Comics themed fighting franchise, Injustice: Gods Among Us; the second game hits this Tuesday!
And outside of the game developing world, the age of the R rated blockbuster is fully upon us. Studios have cracked the code, realizing if they budget films like Deadpool and Logan under 100 million dollars and let the creatives have full control, then we get commercially and critically successful products.
With the world on the brink of destruction in real life, I can't think of a better time to revive this franchise for the silver screen.
So, without further ado, here is Finickal's pitch for 2017's Mortal Kombat.
CHARACTERS: WHO'S GOING TO BE IN THIS THING?
In a character focused, high concept film made for a new audience, it's best to stick with the basic characters, with a taste of the truly insane as the film progresses. Obviously, we'd focus the story on our fighters from Earth -- and if we want this film to succeed, it must succeed first on a character level. We don't just want them to succeed at saving the world, but overcome their personal struggles along the way.
The roster we've come up with is very much in line with the 1995 film: Our main characters are Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage.
Casting these folks would both be a blast and extremely important. Johnny Cage, a washed up actor who demands to be taken seriously (and ultimately is) should be able to juggle gravitas and physical comedy. Sonya Blade, a revenge seeking FBI field agent tasked with infiltrating the tournament, should not only be humorless and intimidating, but still manage to have emotional chemistry with her scene partners.
And, most important of all, Liu Kang: he's obviously the lead of the film. A disgraced monk with anger issues, Liu Kang has a lot of internal baggage. And since Liu is our audience's eyes and ears into this terrifying new world, being able to portray desperation is crucial. It's important in our age to have diverse leads, especially in our martial arts blockbusters, and I can think of nobody better than Indonesian martial arts superstar Iko Uwais.
But that'll be the last note we have on casting. Heck, we're just writers.
OKAY, HOW DOES THIS MOVIE START?
Well, Mortal Kombat is a martial arts film, first and foremost. So it starts with a fight.
At a Shaolin Temple, way up in the mountains -- and populated by diverse and pious warriors who took a sacred vow -- two men fight.
Liu Kang and a new trainee named Kung Lao are throwing serious hands. Liu isn't letting up, and as he beats poor Kung Lao into a pulp, we learn it's only because Lao chided amongst friends that Liu wasn't so tough.
Master Raiden throws Liu of the temple and asked to return his robes; this is apparently strike three.
At a bar somewhere in Kathmandu, Liu Kang picks a fight with a man who's forcing himself on a woman. Obviously, Liu kicks the tar out of him (along with everyone else in the bar).
A man in black who calls himself Shang Tsung enters the bar, and offers Liu an invitation to a tournament that would allow him to finally let loose his skills on a worthy challenger. Liu scoffs, but later confers with Master Raiden over tea -- to Liu's surprise, he encourages him to participate, and tells Liu he has a fire inside him.
There's a lot of things that the 1995 piece just nailed, including the ferry ride and the big introductory dinner where we meet all of the kombatants -- and frankly, we'd probably introduce peripheral characters in a similar fashion.
We'll meet Scorpion and Sub Zero, two rival ninjas stuck in such a blood feud that Scorpion actually came back from the fucking dead to finish it himself at the tournament. Also important, Sonya is here for Kano, a participant in the tournament who killed her partner. Scorpion scoffs and shoulders her as he walks by.
But, it's time the fighting officially got under way.
Every time a fighter loses a match, Shang Tsung (the overseer of the tournament and overall piece of shit) collects the soul and adds it to the giant Soul Wall. More on that later.
But it's time for the first match: Sub Zero will be fighting....KUNG LAO?!
It turns out Kung Lao snuck aboard the ferry in an attempt to prove himself to Liu and his temple once and for all. And, after five seconds, the only thing he proves is how much blood he has as Sub Zero rips his spine out.
And now, Liu Kang realizes his actions have indirect consequences. Fighting for no reason only brings bad things.
The preliminary fights progress: Liu Kang beats some acid spitting guy named Reptile, and Johnny Cage thrashes a guy with blades in his arms called Baraka.
The first day of the fights end with Kano taking on Scorpion in a last minute change of the bracket. Kano was supposed to take on Sonya. He's mad. She's mad. Scorpion wordlessly prepares.
And we get a CRAZY knife fight, all while Scorpion utilizes his famous rope dart. In the end, Scorpion wins with little effort, before glaring at Sonya up in the balcony, and ripping out Kano's heart.
Rattled by the first day, our heroes from Earth return to their tent to find Lord Raiden, who explains the history of the tournament to them, and the stakes that totally fucking lie ahead. What's more -- Sonya's pissed that she won't be able to take revenge for the death of her partner. Raiden expresses his desire to help and participate, but totally can't, because he's the God of Thunder, and Gods aren't allowed to decide the fate of the realms.
Johnny expresses that he's not even supposed to be here, and tells a story about why he always wore sunglasses in his movies -- because he was too hungover to film, and they had to cover his eyes while shooting. The brand stuck, and it always felt like a taint on who he was.
Day two of the tournament is revealed to be a BATTLE ROYALE, where every man, woman, and monster is out for themselves now. In a bamboo forest, Sub Zero ambushes Sonya. As they fight, he explains to her that he's a target of revenge just as Kano was.
The fight is super long, brutal, and exhausting; and they battle until they're too tired to move. Sub Zero takes his mask off -- revealing a sad man who wants to die, who believes he deserves death. And to deliver one last painful blow to Scorpion, Sub Zero encourages her to kill him and win this fight, so that Sub Zero could take one last thing from him.
Scorpion witnesses Sonya murdering Sub Zero in the middle of his fight with some freaking looking dude named Havik. Scorpion WAILS before quickly dispatching Havik, and walks away from the fight area. As other warriors attack him, he kills them in a rage as he continues to walk towards the beach. When he reaches the ocean, he simply walks into it and presumably drowns himself.
Over in Johnny's side of the forest, he's running from this GIANT, FOUR ARMED MONSTER NAMED GORO. He sets a trap, (exactly like the movie he made called Second Blood) and kills Goro with a hidden pit that he digs. He throws a signed picture into the pit after Goro falls in.
Meanwhile, in the central tower, Shang Tsung's Soul Wall swells with energy, having collected enough for him to build an army.
Liu Kang, on the other hand, is avoiding fights altogether. He doesn't want to cause the death of anymore people after what happened with Kung Lao. Unfortunately for Liu, Raiden has a problem with that. Raiden attacks Liu with everything he has, encouraging him to regain his fighting spirit, because he's the only one who can save the earth realm. Liu refuses to fight, forcing Raiden to break tournament rules and confront Shang Tsung himself.
ALL IS LOST
Shang Tsung is surprised by Raiden's interference, but he's collected enough souls from this tournament to act on his plan. Raiden and Shang Tsung fight, and Shang Tsung KILLS Raiden right as Liu returns to help.
With Raiden's soul now absorbed into the Soul Wall -- it finally explodes, with hundreds of souls through out the years now slaves to Shang Tsung's will. Now, they'll over run the island and dispatch the remaining kombatants, before tearing apart every realm, starting with Earth.
HOW DOES THIS END?
Liu Kang, Sonya, and Johnny seem to be the only defense left against the souls of the dead -- the only way to dispel them completely is to defeat the newly empowered Shang Tsung. Johnny and Sonya volunteer to hold off the army as long as they could, acknowledging that it's suicide. Johnny makes his big, romantic move on Sonya, and Sonya hits him -- he misread the moment.
But, both characters are at peace with their choice. Johnny pulls out his pair of sunglasses and puts them on, fully embracing who he is in the face of death.
Liu and Shang Tsung begin their battle, and it's an incredibly technical one-on-one match. If you get a guy who can keep up with Iko Uwais, like Tiger Chen, this is the kind of fight that martial arts fans would want to watch on a loop.
Shang Tsung has the upper hand though, he's way too skilled and knowledged for Liu.
Back outside, just as Johnny and Sonya are about to die themselves, a flaming rope dart skewers five of the undead soldiers that surrounded them. It's fucking SCORPION, who's returned to help and finish this fight. Fighting back to back, the three of them get a second wind.
In the tower, as Liu Kang bleeds, he remembers what Raiden told him -- that he has a fire inside him. Liu springs back up and shoots a fireball right through Shang Tsung's chest cavity, exposing his heart before it just falls onto the dirty floor.
Liu stomps on the heart, and Shang Tsung crumples into dust, aging a thousand years in just under five seconds. The undead soldiers fade away in the same fashion. Scorpion, Sonya, and Johnny are safe.
Thanks to a flaming portal Scorpion creates, Liu, Sonya, and Johnny return to Earth. When they get there, they quickly realize it's been over run by demonic forces they haven't seen before.
Past a bunch of overturned cop cars, A GIANT CENTAUR REARS AND CHARGES TOWARD THEM.
Liu, Johnny, and Sonya put their dukes up and we SNAP TO BLACK.
STINGER? YOU BETCHA!
Deep in Shang Tsung's crumpled Throne Room, Raiden's hand explodes from out of the rubble of the Soul Wall. And with that, we end on the hopes that a sequel to this film will be good.
So what do you all think? Would you watch this?
Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.