EW takes a closer look at the cinematic bloodbath.

By Nick Romano
February 18, 2021 at 01:54 PM EST
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A lot is packed into the first Mortal Kombat trailer: well-known video game characters brought to life on screen, gruesome brutality moves, and gnarly fatalities. So, let's unpack it all.

Mortal Kombat, the latest live-action movie adaptation of the video games since 1997's Annihilation, stars Lewis Tan as Cole Young, a down-on-his luck MMA fighter who becomes the target of Shang Tsung (Chin Han), a sorcerer from another realm called Outworld. Looking for answers surrounding the dragon mark on his chest, he finds his way to the temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm. There he must train with more of earth's champions for a tournament that could determine the fate of his world.

That's the basic concept for the film from director Simon McQuoid, who shot the movie in Australia in late 2019 off a screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, and a story by Russo and Oren Uziel. But the trailer offers more answers to the story at play.

Here's a look at key shots in the trailer with some added insights from McQuoid, Tan, and actor Hiroyuki Sanada (who plays Scorpion).

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In Mortal Kombat canon, Sonya Blade and Jax Briggs (played here by Jessica McNamee and Mehcad Brooks, respectively) are members of a special forces unit that monitors activities from other realms. In the trailer, Sonya mentions an incident that occurred when their team traveled to Brazil in search of a wanted fugitive. Unfortunately for Jax, he found himself face to face with Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), a warrior from Outworld with the ability to control ice. That's how he loses his arms. Ouch!

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Cole Young may be a wholly original character introduced to the Mortal Kombat franchise, but he has the same dragon mark that so many other famous figures bear. "It's not a birthmark, Cole," Jax tells him. "It means you've been chosen." Chosen for what? Why, the Mortal Kombat tournament, of course. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tan says Warner Bros. "searched far and wide for the right girl" to play Cole's daughter Emily, and they found her in Matilda Kimber. Cole's "family's story" and "connecting with the daughter" was important for the story, Tan explained. It was important for the audition, as well. So much so that Tan auditioned with his best friend's 9-year-old child. "She's never acted before in her life, so she was super nervous and I had to buy her a LEGO set. But she's in the self-tape that I did. That's how I got the part."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

When we first meet Cole, Tan says "he's in a really bad spot. He's down on his luck. He's kind of a washed-up MMA fighter who used to be a champion, who used to believe in himself, who used to have a lot of hope in his career. And it's all gone down the drain." As a martial artist himself, Tan pulled from a number of different fighting styles to make Cole feel unique. There's a moment during this particular match sequence where the actor emulated UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal by leaning up against the cage. "That's what Jorge Masvidal did before he knocked out Ben Askren in three seconds and set the whole MMA community on fire," Tan said. Cole has the same kind of "salt of the earth grit" as Masvidal. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In searching for answers to the mystery of his mark, Cole makes his way to Sonya, who explains, "Throughout history, different cultures all over the world reference a great tournament of champions. That dragon marking? I think it's an invitation." 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Lord Raiden, the thunderous Elder God and protector of Earthrealm, confronts Shang Tsung, the sorcerer from Outworld, in Sub-Zero's icy fortress. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

As Cole stares at himself in the mirror, he has a vision. It lasts but a moment, but it's clearly of Hanzo Hasahi, a.k.a. Scorpion. Can't be a coincidence, right? 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Part of the movie is about "the birth of Scorpion," McQuoid said. And he found unique ways to tell that story. The kunai blade is Scorpion's signature weapon, which he fashions when he was first known as Hanzo Hasashi. "We did a bit of research and the kunai is actually an ancient Japanese gardening tool," McQuoid explained. "So, one of the earliest shots in the movie is the kunai blade being used as a gardening tool by Hanzo's wife."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The opening sequence, approximately 10 minutes long, is set in feudal Japan. The clans of Hanzo and Bi-Han (who later becomes known as Sub-Zero) are at odds, and Bi-Han makes the latest act of aggression towards the other. What ensues is "a pretty nasty hand-to-hand combat," McQuoid said. "It's a very tasty role for an actor: family man changed to fighting machine," Sanada remarked. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Raiden offers sanctuary at his temple to all those bearing the dragon mark. There, the champions train for the upcoming Mortal Kombat. Those champions include Sonya and Kano (Josh Lawson), who seem to have a scuffle in the desert that doesn't end well for Kano. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Kano is a cybernetic mercenary, who's more like an adversary in the games. So, it's interesting to see him as one of earth's champions. What remains accurate is his eye that can blast lasers at enemies. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Ludi Lin, who played the Black Ranger in the 2017 Power Rangers movie, portrays Liu Kang, can use his arcana to channel some pretty dazzling fire power.  

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The hat of Kung Lao (Max Huang) isn't just an accessory. It's his chief weapon, and it's more deadly than the one worn by Bond villain Oddjob. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

As you can see, Jax isn't down for the count after losing his arms. In fact, he's new and improved. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Cue the Imagine Dragons song. Asano emerges fully as Raiden, the God of Thunder. It's funny to think how the actor once played Chris Hemsworth's on-screen sidekick Hogun, of the Warriors Three, in the Thor movies. Now, Asano is the one who's worthy. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

After all these years, Hanzo returns to the present day to face Bi-Han/Sub-Zero. Only this time he, too, has supernatural abilities of his own. Hanzo completes his transformation into the Scorpion who we know from the games. "No matter how many of my people you put in the ground, we will not fail," he warns his enemy. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

A brief shot sees Cole sparring with Kung Lao, presumably as the champions hone their skills for the tournament. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Newcomer Sisi Stringer plays Mileena. In the games, she's a mutant clone of the fan-wielding character Kitana. It's unclear if she'll pop up in the movie, but we see Mileena a few shots later standing behind Shang Tsung next to Sub-Zero, implying she, too, is one of his henchmen out to kill earth's champions. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The official plot description for Mortal Kombat describes Shang Tsung as the emperor of Outworld. In the games, the emperor is actually Shao Kahn, and there's a statue of him spotted in the new trailer. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Some might think this is actually another character from the games named Smoke, given all the... you. But the costume appears to be the same as Sub-Zero, who's the one to kicks off Cole's journey. Shang Tsung sends the ice-cold brawler to attack Cole, and the encounter is what prompts Cole to search for answers. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

McQuoid promised fatalities — the bloody finishing moves from the games — would be adapted into the movie, and we get our first glimpse of them. Liu Kang, who sometimes turns himself into a dragon and bites off the heads of his opponents in the games, summons a fiery dragon to ravage his enemy. "There are some crazy fatalities," Tan said. "We've picked a couple of iconic ones. There's a lot of really cool signature moves that you'll see, a lot of Easter eggs that we snuck into the film, but there are some really badass fatalities that I can't wait to see on the big screen. They're brutal, man. They don't hold back."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

There are more characters from the games making their way to the screen than have been confirmed previously by the studio. For one, Goro, the multi-armed Shokan, is seen hurling himself into the air on the offensive. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Given the surroundings, this shot seems like it hails from the sequence in which Sub-Zero first attacks Cole in the present. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Here's another look at the character Liu Kang is fighting before he sicks the flaming dragon on him. Their identity hasn't been confirmed, but given the shape of the blades in this shot, it seems to be Kabal. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

One of Sub-Zero's weapons, the Kori Blade, makes an appearance in Mortal Kombat. It's a sword he can create by freezing water molecules into the shape of a... well, sword. There you go. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

This is one of those "holy s---!" moments! In the grand Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion fight sequence, the man formerly known as Bi-Han cuts Scorpion, sending a splash of blood into the air that he then freezes into a dagger. Sub-Zero creating a wall of ice through which he hurls Scorpion is an homage to some of the brutality and fatality moves in the games. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Of course, Scorpion has some tricks of his own. The "Get over here" move, a.k.a. the "Come here" move, from the games is adapted faithfully in the movie. Scorpion launches his kunai-tipped whip and pulls Sub-Zero towards him with immense ferocity. "When I performed that signature move with the words in the rehearsal on set for the first time, I had a great reaction from the cast and crew," Sanada said. "They said, 'Yeah! I've waited for this moment.' Then I realized how popular this move is." Couple that with a movie score by Benjamin Wallfisch that's based on the games' classic theme music and you've got action-movie gold. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The final moments of the trailer is a blitz of action shots. A couple tease a battle between Sonya and Mileena with Cole thrown in the mix. Here's Sonya channeling arcana for a special attack. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Another character confirmed for the movie is Reptile. He was spotted earlier in the trailer using his invisibility to infiltrate Sonya's base while she's speaking with Cole. Here, he's in a fight with Kano, who uses his own fatality move to rip out his heart. 

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

McQuoid didn't say much about Kano's depiction in the movie, only that much of the humor comes from him. "Kano provides an enormous amount of comedic joy. Josh Lawson did a phenomenal job and is a very gifted funny man," he said. "Kano is a super fun character and I think people’ll really, really enjoy the ride with him."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

While the jury's still out as to whether Kitana will feature in the movie in some capacity, her famous bladed fan does. It can be seen on a podium in the background of a trailer scene inside Raiden's temple. 

Mortal Kombat will be released in theaters and on HBO Max April 16.

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