Mortal Kombat: Biggest Changes the Movie Makes to the Games

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This article contains spoilers for Mortal Kombat.

The Mortal Kombat movie may be one of the first true blockbusters of 2021, but for millions of fans of the games, it’s also another chance to “get it right.” Sure, 1995’s is a somewhat underrated live-action adaptation of a video game, but its irredeemable sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, left many fans doubting that we’d ever see another big-budget live-action Mortal Kombat movie much less one that comes close to capturing what makes the games special.

You can read our review of the film itself for a better look at how close the new movie comes to accomplishing that lofty goal, but suffice to say, the movie makes a lot of changes to the games it’s based on. Some of those changes were almost inevitable given the transition between storytelling mediums, while others are more…debatable.

While there are a lot of little differences longtime Mortal Kombat fans will spot in the movie, these are the biggest ways the movie changes the universe of the games.

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Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s Origins and Rivalry

We’ve covered this more extensively elsewhere, but the most popular version of the Sub-Zero/Scorpion rivalry as it’s portrayed in the games involves the sorcerer Quan Chi whose task pits Sub-Zero and Scorpion (who are members of rival clans) directly against each other. Sub-Zero kills Scorpion while trying to complete that assignment, but Quan Chi resurrects Scorpion after making him believe that Sub-Zero killed his family and clan. 

The Mortal Kombat movie cuts through some of that by suggesting that Sub-Zero and Scorpion are simply members of rival clans and that Sub-Zero did actually kill Scorpion’s family. It also cuts Quan Chi out of Scorpion’s resurrection. The idea that Sub-Zero is directly responsible for those deaths could close the door on a future storyline where Sub-Zero’s brother and Scorpion unite to get revenge on Quan Chi, but streamlining this particular plot point makes a bit of sense when you consider that adding Quan Chi to the movie would have only added another piece to an already busy film. 

The Reason For Jax’s Mechanical Arms

Again, we’ve covered this story before (in a great article you really should read), but Jax has lost his arms in a variety of ways over the years across Mortal Kombat’s various games, timelines, and adaptations. 

However, none of those stories involved Sub-Zero ripping off Jax’s arms, which is pretty much what happens in the movie. Given that the story of how Jax lost his arms has changed so much over the years, it’s hard to blame the movie’s writers for not sticking to an existing story. Besides, making Sub-Zero responsible for the incident is a nice way to tie two of the bigger characters in the movie together. 

How Mortal Kombat’s Fighters Are Chosen

In the Mortal Kombat games, people participate in the tournament for various reasons. For instance, Johnny Cage joins the tournament to prove he’s more than an actor who relies on stunts and effects, while Liu Kang joins as a fighter trained to protect Earth. There’s really no universal explanation for how people get there. 

The movie tries to offer such a universal explanation by not only suggesting that fighters are chosen by fate but that you can become one of the fighters by killing an already chosen participant. That idea is already becoming one of the film’s most contentious changes as some ask whether the whole concept is just one plot point too many. 

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The “Arcana” Explanation

Why do characters in the Mortal Kombat games have special powers? The storyline explanations vary. Some were born with those powers, while others acquired them through mechanical enhancements or gifts from the gods. Mostly, though, giving characters powers was just a way to spice up the original arcade game’s special moves. 

In one of the biggest departures from the games, the MK movie suggests that Earthrealm’s warriors have to unlock the “Arcana” ability within them. We’re going to cover a couple of the more specific instances of this explanation deviating from the games in a big way, but it’s worth highlighting the fact that this idea of Earthrealm warriors needing to unlock the Arcana within them was never really mentioned in the games. It’s a very “Midi-chlorian” way to approach the whole idea.

Sonya Blade’s Powers

Again, we could spend quite a bit of time talking about the many ways the Arcana concept changes the video game versions of Mortal Kombat‘s biggest characters, but Sonya Blade is one of the most interesting and notable examples of such a deviation. As those who saw the MK movie know, Sonya gets her powers when she kills Kano, becomes one of the tournament’s chosen fighters, and unlocks her Acana ability.

How did she get those abilities in the game? It’s a little muddy in the beginning, but later entries in the series suggest that her abilities are based on mechanical creations rather than an inherent power. The idea of Sonya having a device attached to her arms that allows her to shoot projectiles really seemed to be part of an effort to help explain her otherwise unexplainable abilities in the original games, but it was a pretty effective way to do just that. 

Kano’s Eye

The origin of Kano’s “laser eye” in the Mortal Kombat games is really pretty simple. Kano suffered massive damage to his eye in a battle against Jax and had a mechanical plate and enhanced eye grafted on to cover the affected area. That eye so happened to grant Kano the ability to fire a laser beam as well as access several enhanced modes of vision. 

The Mortal Kombat movie not only suggests that Kano’s physical trauma was caused by Reptile (more on that in a bit) but that Kano’s ability to shoot a laser from his eye is part of his Arcana ability. It’s an…interesting deviation that is arguably the most unnecessary of all the Arcana plot points as Kano’s eye was one of those pieces of lore that was explained in the games fairly early on and has since become one of the character’s defining physical qualities.

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Sonya Blade: Exposition Machine

In one of the movie’s stranger moments, Sonya Blade lays out a sizable bit of lore as she explains the concept of the Mortal Kombat tournament to Cole Young and helps him understand what it means to be chosen. She doesn’t have all the details, but what she does know is described as the result of a lengthy investigation. 

This is another one of those instances of plot convenience, as there’s no early version of Sonya Blade in the games who is so well-informed about the tournament. In fact, in both the original game and the 2011 “reboot,” Sonya stumbles upon the tournament in progress while hunting Kano. 

Reptile’s Design

I told you we’d get to Reptile. In the games, Reptile is a humanoid/reptilian ninja who is loyal to Outworld’s rulers and Shang Tsung. He is typically described as a gifted assassin and warrior.

The Mortal Kombat movie keeps some of those traits but strangely portrays Reptile as little more than a giant lizard. While it’s true that Reptile’s in-game humanoid attributes largely hide his “lizard” form, most of the games portray him as a creature with a somewhat human physical structure. Actually, one of the only MK games to show Reptile as a pure “creature” was Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, and that design was not exactly well-received by many fans. 

The Mortal Kombat Tournament’s Rules

While it probably seems like the Mortal Kombat tournament is basically a free-for-all, many versions of the tournament seen throughout the games do adhere to some basic rules. One of the most important MK rules says that you can’t attack another realm’s fighters prior to the tournament and that a violation of that rule could mean having to deal with the wrath of the Elder Gods. 

The movie throws a lot of that out of the window. It does mention that rules exist, and it rightfully suggests that not everyone plays by them, but at some point, everyone seems to ignore the whole tournament concept altogether in favor of just killing each other. Meanwhile, the Raiden stands by and lends little help despite seemingly being able to step in and start smacking the cheaters around as soon as the rules were broken. 

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Liu Kang’s Origin Story

From the very first game, Liu Kang has been portrayed as an incredibly skilled warrior who stands as one of Earthrealm’s most capable defenders. The details of his origin have been played with over the years, but there’s long been the idea that he was one of the Earthrealm participants who has trained for this moment for quite some time. 

The movie doesn’t stray from that story too wildly compared to other reworked origins, but it adds a couple of wrinkles by suggesting that Liu Kang was once a down-and-out orphan and that he “earned” his place in the tournament by killing a child smuggler who had the mark on him. The change seemed to be a way to explain how Liu Kang got his powers in the film’s universe and joined this version of the tournament, but it’s another one of those aspects of the movie which was perhaps overthought and creates a few character complications that aren’t quite resolved.

Cole Young: Scorpion’s Descendant

By now, you probably know that Cole Young was a character created specifically for the Mortal Kombat movie and doesn’t exist in the games. If you want to know a little more about the meta reasons for the character’s creation, I highly recommend checking out this article

What’s fascinating, though, is that the movie goes on to reveal that Cole Young is one of Scorpion’s descendants. Scorpion’s children have been featured in previous MK works, but they typically don’t appear in anything more substantial than a flashback or vision. The whole idea of Scorpion’s descendants living on through the years creates questions the movie doesn’t necessarily answer. If anything, that idea feels like a play on a moment in MK 11 when Scorpion confronts his younger self and convinces him to defend Earthrealm. 

Did you spot any other major changes in the Mortal Kombat movie? Let us know about them in the comments below.

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