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‘Mortal Kombat’ Writer Says the New Movie Isn’t For Kids Now — It’s For ’90s Kids

Greg Russo, the guy who wrote the new 'Mortal Kombat' movie, knows what 90s kids want.

Midway / Warner Bros. Pictures

Get over here! For ’90s kids, that phrase doesn’t mean what it means. As uttered by the combatant Scorpion, that catchphrase evokes long afternoons of playing Mortal Kombat, perfecting the combos that led to spine-ripping fatalities, hands likely covered in the fine film of Cheetos or Pringles. (Maybe that’s just me?)

Thanks to its deep roster of unique fighters, great-for-the-time graphics, and gruesome finishing moves, Mortal Kombat cemented its place in popular culture. The 1992 original not only spawned a gaming franchise that’s still going strong today, but is also responsible for the creation of ESRB ratings, thanks to the violence in video games backlash it caused that riled up concerned parents and Senate committees.

If went to the arcade or you (or a friend) had Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis, the promise was that things would get gnarly pretty quickly. The point of Mortal Kombat is that it went too far. It was like when toys from Aliens or Terminator were marketed to kids. Mortal Kombat was always supposed to be something a little bit bad and too hardcore for kids. Kids flocked to it because who could resist the chance to command Kano to tear someone’s still-beating heart out or Johnny Cage to decapitate an opponent via uppercut?

The new movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat — the third of its kind, but a complete reboot — delivers on that blood-soaked promise, too. Streaming on HBO Max and in theaters right now, the movie jettisons the cheesiness (and Cheetos) from the lukewarm 1990s and gives audiences who grew up with the games what they’ve always wanted: An unabashed hardcore, violent, and over-the-top Mortal Kombat movie. There are loads of on-screen fatalities and, yes, characters even gloat about their flawless victories. It’s ridiculous because how could it not be?

Fatherly caught up with Greg Russo, the film’s screenwriter — a father himself — to get a sense of how he crafted this new Mortal Kombatwhat it means for families, and why it will appeal to the ’90s kid inside of a lot of dads.

This movie is a hard-R. It’s for our childhoods, but not our children. Can you speak to that?

Part of the mission in bringing this franchise back was to try to be as authentic as we could to the source material and to the original game. And just like, you know, you and [the Fatherly] readers, I grew up in that age bracket of going to the arcade and, you know, playing there for hours every day after school back in the mid-nineties. And, what  I wanted to do, was to make sure that if we’re going to do this reboot is that we wanted to make sure that it was the thing you loved.

Did that mean throwing out the “original” movies?

Well, I loved the original movie when I was 14 or 15 when it came out. At the time, I think they made the best PG-13 movie that they could. You know, it’s intense and pretty violent at times, too. But, while it was a fun movie, it didn’t quite capture the true feeling of what this was. I mean, I know that movie has a sizable cult following. This is a reboot though, so we’re just kind of letting those 90s films be what they are.

I suppose a Christoper Lambert cameo was out of the question.

I think Simon McQuoid, our director, had a very clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish here and, you know, he wanted to own it. He wanted to make it his own. And I think that’s fair. Rather than just trying to shoehorn things from the old movies, we just wanted to make sure that we were creating our own unique identity system.

Here’s something I’ve always wondered: Are the Mortal Kombat characters superheroes? Like in a narrative sense? 

I would actually say, yes, they are superheroes because it does follow a more traditional narrative process where these are normal, everyday humans that become part of another scenario.  And, in the course of the story, they have to discover and unlock their power and they unlock their abilities. They have moments of coming to terms with the fact that they’re now this incredibly powerful thing. But, they’re not just superheroes from the beginning. There’s a journey involved.

Okay, let’s get into it. You can’t watch this movie with kids. It’s not for kids, right?

That’s a good question! So, I’m a father, I have a four-year-old son, and I showed him the PG trailer because he was asking about it. Not the red band trailer to be clear. I didn’t do that to my four-year-old. Anyway. He really lit up and was running around and quoting the trailer and pretending he knew the characters.

But, you know, for the parent out there thinking is this right for kid? I dunno. I think you need to use your own judgment and your own sensibilities there. It’s a violent movie.

I guess the follow-up question is if your kids is like 15…

I mean if they’re a teenager, they’re going to figure out how to see it anyway, right? And I would say, I that’s fine. With what is readily available on our screens, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But, you know, we were really trying to pay homage to all the fatalities and stuff from the original game. So, it’s not like this was studio-mandated violence. Any of the horrible things that people do in this movie are thanks to me.

Mortal Kombat is streaming now on HBO Max.