One of the biggest surprises of the Mortal Kombat reboot was the inclusion of Cole Young, a character original to the film. It was an odd choice for one of the central protagonists to not be taken from the games, and the movie’s producer has now explained the decision.
Lewis Tan, a veteran of multiple high profile martial arts productions such as Iron Fist, Into the Badlands and Wu Assassins, plays Cole, a washed up MMA fighter who the plot revolves around after he’s targeted by the assassin Sub-Zero, in the process revealing a heritage of which even he’s unaware. The movie’s producer, Todd Garner, clarified that far from a bizarre oversight disregarding the games’ lore, a new character was intentionally utilized precisely because the mythology is so expansive.
“You know, having made a number of movies in our careers, the worry is when you have such a deep piece of IPs that like a video game that if you get too stuck in just the video game you can sometimes ignore the rest of the world, and we have to acknowledge that not every single person in the world knows the game. So we needed an access point for everybody to come into the game, but not to fuck with any of the canons of the game, not to mess with anybody’s backstory, so that in order to keep everybody pristine and keep the game true, we needed a character to come in and meet all those characters.”
“That’s the character Lewis is playing. He sees the eyes of anyone who’s never played the game, just to come in and go, ‘Oh, this is Kabal. Oh, this is Kano, oh this is Sonya Blade.’ As opposed to just jumping in and having a tournament and just sort of how the ‘95 movie did it. We felt like that might be a little limiting for people and be a little jarring for people. You have to have somebody coming in and narrating. I use that in air quotes. So that’s the character Cole is playing. We’re not trying to say he’s a new character in the game, he’s just used to start introduction into the world of Mortal Kombat.”
As well as explaining the purpose of Cole, Garner’s final comment is also worth noting. While on the surface it suggests that the intention is not for the character to be ported into a subsequent installment of the game, it could also be interpreted that he actually is an existing fighter, which ties into the popular theory that the notable absence of Johnny Cage from the film will be explained by Cole taking on the moniker as a stage name.
An audience surrogate, where a character is dropped into an unfamiliar setting and learns about it at the same rate as the viewers, is a frequent narrative tactic used for worldbuilding, avoiding explaining things that characters should already know and understand. It shouldn’t be assumed that Mortal Kombat, with its vast and sprawling mythos that’s been continually expanded over almost 30 years, is intimately comprehensible to the entire potential audience of the reboot, and having someone along for the ride with them would certainly ease the portrayal of the complexity of its world.