25 years ago this very week, the very first live-action Mortal Kombat movie premiered. It … wasn’t great, though some fans maintain its status as a cinematic cult classic. To be quite honest, it was a tough task and a tall order to spin a compelling yarn out of the violent and bloody (and uber-popular) fighting game: The game’s only conceit was that elite fighters from our world and other realms battled against each other in a tournament to the death, the winner of which would not only survive but save their own world from invasion and takeover. Not a lot to work with there, despite MK‘s cast of colorful characters.
The live-action movieverse has never lived up to the video game franchise’s greatest moments and the live-action TV / web series weren’t given a chance to really shine. Even Mortal Kombat‘s animated fare couldn’t quite nail the adaptation. But NetherRealm Studios’ more story-focused Mortal Kombat 11 and Warner Bros. Animation’s recent feature Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge might just be the beginning of the best stories in the franchise thanks to, believe it or not, corporate synergy.
Anyone who’s been following Warner Bros. Animation for the last few decades knows that the studio likes to focus on very few proven franchises: Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo!, Tom & Jerry, LEGO, and, you guessed it, DC Comics properties. That latter list of titles has provided an endless stream of content for WBA to adapt, and they will continue to do so. But just as the DC Animated Movie Universe is now undergoing a changing of the guard midway through 2020, WBA is looking to test the waters of other franchises under the WarnerMedia umbrella. And that comes at a great time for Mortal Kombat fans, just as the creative teams behind the video game are also embracing story elements more than ever before.
In Mortal Kombat 11, there is absolutely the usual tournament-styled fighting option you’ve come to know and love over the last three decades. What’s different this time around, or at least more of a focus than ever before, is an attempt to build a compelling story at the center of the beat-em-up brawler. The story comes with unexpected twists and turns, a clever time-loop that lets you get the best of both worlds (and narrative outcomes), and a reason to play through the story mode a few times, if only to play as the fighters you didn’t get to control the first time through. But MK11 also tries to fold in the many and varied storylines and realms of the wider Mortal Kombat mythology and lore, introducing a time-controlling goddess by the name of Kronika who’s basically the Doctor Strange of this ‘verse. She’s seen countless timelines, pulled various fighters from one of them and dropped them into another (allowing players to fight as and against various versions of their favorite characters), and has a contingency plan for just about anything and everything our heroes can come up with … at least until she doesn’t. It’s a very clever mechanic when it comes to retconning the Mortal Kombat video game universe and a herald of positive things to come as far as narratives are concerned.
Warner Bros. Animation’s first adaptation of the Mortal Kombat universe had pretty much nothing to do with Mortal Kombat 11, but an animated version of the latest game’s story may not be far off. Clearly, WBA is testing out the reception among their fanbase when it comes to MK, and it only took the studio about a decade to do so after their parent company acquired the property from Midway Games. Better late than never. And to be quite honest, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge was one of the freshest features from the studio in years, thanks mainly to a new cast of characters, while still giving fans the expected over-the-top violence from the video game franchise and the adult humor that’s all too often shoehorned into their comic book adaptations. Mortal Kombat is clearly a better fit for Warner Bros. Animation and their chosen tone of adult storytelling than DC at the moment, especially as the new DC movies appear to be heading into a brighter, more colorful space, both visually and narratively (though it remains to be seen if these tonal differences stick).
With NetherRealm Studios flexing their creative muscles to focus on story in the Mortal Kombat franchise and Warner Bros. Animation bringing their decades of veteran storytelling experience to the property, I can’t think of a better example of corporate synergy for the future of both subsidiaries. That should come as good news for fans, too. The DCAU may have paved the way, but the Mortal Kombat Universe (MKU) could conceivably be the next big success story for the WB. I, for one, can’t wait to see more!