A producer for the live-action Mortal Kombat movie has stated having Johnny Cage or a white actor be the hero of the film would have “felt weird,” thanks to the diverse cast.
During an interview with Inverse and other outlets, Todd Garner was asked why they would create a new character- MMA fighter Cole Young- rather than bring back an existing character like Johnny Cage. Garner explained the new character is to help audiences who had never player Mortal Kombat understand the world (a character trope often referred to as an “audience surrogate”).
“If you walked into the theater and you didn’t know anything [about Mortal Kombat], would you enjoy it?” Garner explained. “We have to, by the end of the movie, get everyone caught up. So if they let us make another one, then we can start really digging into the characters.”
“You have to go into [making] it knowing there are hardcore fans who know every single thing. But you have to be realistic. If you’ve ever taken your mom to a movie and she’s like ‘What’s happening?’ and you’re like, ‘Mom, shut the fuck up.’ That’s the problem with Mortal Kombat. It’s so goddamn complicated. Cole asks the questions, ‘Who? What’s happening?’ and he gets the answers.”
Garner also explains that the filmmakers had “a very specific story we wanted to tell” that “we felt it important be told;” something Cole Young is ideal for.
Garner then explained how (in Inverse’s words) “one more problem [he] and his team had was the unsavory idea of a white character (like Johnny Cage) being the hero who saves everyone.” Cole Young is being played by mixed-race Chinese-British actor Lewis Tan.
“I feel like if I was getting to make a movie with a diverse cast,” Garner explains, “it felt weird to have a white actor, literally Johnny Cage, be the hero of the story.” Garner adds discussions about this took place during the films pre-production almost seven years ago “way before Black Lives Matter.”
The character Johnny Cage is a Hollywood actor, entering the first Mortal Kombat tournament to prove he was a competent fighter to studios; after being panned by critics for an over reliance on special effects and stunt doubles. Cage has rarely acted as a major protagonist, usually acting as comic relief thanks to his arrogance and immaturity.
However, over time Johnny became more mature. He would later marry Sonya Blade and have a child with her; Cassie Cage. Johnny even meets his younger “original” self in Mortal Kombat 11, chastising him for his behavior. Across live action Johnny has been portrayed by Linden Ashby, Chris Conrad, and Matt Mullins.
While the character may be too comical to take the lead, other major characters from Earth (or Earthrealm) include Liu Kang (Henan Province, China), and Sonya (Austin, Texas, USA). Scorpion and Subzero; before being reborn in Neatherrealm, were also from ancient Japan and China respectively.
While several more serious characters could have served as an audience surrogate; as aforementioned the “very specific story” Garner and the film makers want to create rests on the shoulders of Cole Young.
Mortal Kombat (2021) premieres in cinemas 2021.
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Image: Mortal Kombat 11 via YouTube