[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Mortal Kombat.]
“I wear Ray-Bans a lot, so someone was like, ‘Oh, he’s Johnny Cage for sure. He’s Johnny Cage.'” That’s Lewis Tan, who plays Cole Young in Mortal Kombat, explaining the tendency to theorize that his character is actually one of the already beloved fan favorites, rather than a brand new character. But if that wasn’t enough for you, now we know for sure, thanks to a pointed, tantalizing ending sequence from the film, that Johnny Cage and Cole Young are different people — and that the Mortal Kombat krew is heading to Hollywood to pick up Cage for the hopeful sequel!
It’s quite the shadow kick of an ending, an MCU-esque tease at a future expansion to come, a wink to pre-existing fans of the world that they’ll see a big-screen version of their beloved soon enough. How exactly did this Mortal Kombat ending come about? Were there other versions of this tease? And was the plan for multiple Mortal Kombat sequels baked in from the jump?
I was lucky enough to speak with Mortal Kombat‘s co-writer Greg Russo over Zoom, where explained his plans for an MK trilogy: “Movie one, we were always kind of setting this up as — well I was setting it up, it’s basically in my head — I always saw [movie one] as pre-tournament, then [movie two is] hopefully tournament, then [movie three is] post-tournament. So the idea was that this was going to be a pre-tournament movie that would hopefully sow the seeds for the tournament, the final.” Russo went on to explain both the benefits and drawbacks of thinking this way, while emphasizing the importance of making sure the first entry works on its own:
“Everybody was focused on movie one, right? You don’t get a trilogy without it. But as a writer, you should never be painting yourself in a corner, that’s my motto. You should always be thinking about ‘Where can your story go even beyond the two hours — this is not a lot of time — that I have to tell this story? Where else can it go?’ So I always saw it as leading up to something bigger. And so the idea then became, alright, we have a certain amount of characters we can fit, don’t have the luxury of having individual movies of all these characters, I’m getting thrown right into Avengers mode, which is fun and a challenge. But I knew that there were other characters I just couldn’t get in, and it actually didn’t even make sense to bring in yet for the story. So then it became a matter of, ‘Well, who’s the big characters that we wanna save?’ ‘Cause you also don’t wanna use everything.”
Thus, after the Earthrealm warriors stop the vicious Outworld warriors from their play for the throne before the actual tournament, Cole Young says he’s heading to Hollywood to get a new fighter to help them, and as he moves out of frame, we see a movie poster for Johnny Cage — a promise that one of the best MK characters has indeed been saved for Mortal Kombat 2. But this wasn’t the only version of a Johnny Cage tease. Here’s Russo to explain:
“Johnny’s tease at the end, the button, it changed different ways. I remember there were different versions of it. That poster was something that the design team did, which I love. I picked ‘Citizen Cage’ ’cause I just thought that was hilarious. ‘Fight For Your Rights.’ So I picked that and put it in the script and then they designed an amazing poster. And then it had lived in other places, so it actually wasn’t the button for awhile, it was earlier in the story, like they were walking and you just see it in the background. And we felt like that just wasn’t enough, ’cause you wanted to really hit on it. I remember there was a version for the end where they actually went to the lot. So Cole and Sonya went to the studio lot. I forget what it even was, they pulled up, and they were going to the meeting. It was gonna be shot at Warner Brothers. But it just felt like, with the pandemic and everything, it got to a point where it was hard to do a lot of that. I love the way that it buttons and it’s simple. And yeah, hopefully we can tell more of those stories.”
So if there was originally a version where the characters head to a studio where Cage is in the middle of filming, does that mean they had an actor cast for the role at one moment? Sadly, according to Russo, he was “never cast, no. I guess that’s part of why you see him from the waist down. Filmmaking trick, yeah.”
Be on the look out for more from our interview with Russo, and be on the look out for Johnny Cage from the waist up if/when Mortal Kombat 2 is made!
The Emmy-winning Hulu drama returns on April 28 with three new episodes.
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