After a pair of movies and a fan-made web series, New Line is ready to fully relaunch their live-action Mortal Kombat franchise. From the mind of video game adapter Greg Russo and Aquaman producer James Wan, the third live-action Mortal Kombat film has secured an early 2021 release date. As the film gets ready to begin production later this year, we spoke with Russo to talk about all things Mortal Kombat.
From telling us about practically living at a nearby arcade while growing up and grinding away on the establishment's Mortal Kombat 2 machine to hashing out out potential video game adaptations, here's what Russo has to say about brutal fatalities, getting inspiration from Deadpool, and more.
ComicBook.com: So let's talk Mortal Kombat. This is the third feature film go-around with the franchise, right? When you're writing something like this, obviously there's nearly a dozen video games and two live-action films. Did you want to watch the two films and kind of glean some ideas from that or did the powers that be want you to do your own thing for this iteration?
Greg Russo: Yeah, the preparation was being a lifelong fan and being a huge gamer myself. So thankfully, I had quite a number of years under my belt, just playing the games and getting to love the characters, getting to love the world. So you know it was easy for me to draw from a lot of the things that I really enjoyed about the games. The mission statement for the new film has always been, we don't want to repeat what you've already seen. That doesn't really appeal to anybody, I don't think. They already have those films. So at the same time, we wanted to tell a new story that's going to be exciting, but that's gonna be faithful to the lore and the games that everybody knows and loves.
The mission was really just to bring your passion to the project and let's figure out what the best story is for a new film adaptation that feels fresh and at the same time pays respect to the game.
Awesome. So you did say you are a lifelong player. You want to pay respect to the games. Who's your main character? Who's your go-to fighter?
So when I was growing up in high school, there was a bowling alley near my house that I used to go to a lot, just to kind of get away from the daily shit that we all go through. I would just spend hours in there and they had an MK2 machine and you know, back in the mid-'90s that was...they had these things called arcades, I guess the new kids won't be too familiar with those...but back then we had arcades and they became these really cool social hangouts, it was just where you'd go and you'd spend time with a bunch of fellow gaming nerds. So yeah, the MK2 machine was my go-to. That's where I really cut my teeth and Kitana was my player, so I was well-versed in her move set on that machine and you had to be or else you'd be kicked out of the arcade.
Let's talk tone. You get into genre films and you have the DC films kind of more serious and then you have Marvel films where their trademark is to inject a little bit and make it more lighthearted. Where on the spectrum would you place this iteration of Mortal Kombat?
Yeah. Well, I mean we looked at ... I mean really we wanted to be somewhat truthful with the tone of the game. So if you played the games you know the games well there's real stakes, there's real emotion behind what the characters are going through, but at the same time it's really fun. I mean Mortal Kombat has always been very tongue-in-cheek in how it approaches whether it's kind of over the top violence or just kind of some of the insane story ideas that they come up with. I mean there's always been this kind of fun nature to it.
We looked at the games and then we also were looking at some film comps to compare our tone to, and I think things like Deadpool popped up and we're like, we really like the tone of that. You know, it's got some great humor in there, but if you kind of take the humor out of it, it's got real characters, like really emotional stakes behind what the characters are going through. So that was something that we looked at for the tone of this. It'll be fun, but it'll also be obviously real stakes, real characters, real emotion.
Absolutely. Now on Twitter, you did drop the whole R rated bombshell, right? Is it safe to say we're talking about these brutal, gruesome over the top fatalities? Can fans expect some game-accurate fatalities in this film?
Game-accurate? Yes, we are...I can say for sure that the fatalities that we're gonna put into the film are from the game. We're not going to come up with some new things that we haven't seen before, but at the same time, if we're going to do it to use that device, we want to make sure that it's not just in there just to be in there and have that point to the story. So everything will always have that point to what's happening in the story, that it will feel awesome and badass, but it's going to play a role, you know, it's not just going to be there just to be showy.
In terms of the content, yeah. I mean we're ... I think there's always a thin line, you know, you don't want to be over the top, right? With your violence and I don't know that that's really going to put people off. I'm not sure that's even necessary. So you want to be truthful, but you also don't want to be so ridiculous and gratuitous that you may turn people off in the wrong way. So I would just say that it's going to be faithful to the games and it's going to earn it's R rating, I guess I'll say that.
Okay. Now when we're talking character choices and the characters and cast involved in this movie, is it limited by the choices of the game or could fans expect some exciting original content coming to the silver screen?
Yeah. One of the trickiest things I think with adapting the properties are there are so many characters, right? I mean there are, I think there are 70 something characters in this and we don't have the ability to stagger these films like the MCU does, right? We can't do a Sonya movie and then do a Liu Kang movie. So we're forced right into Avengers mode off the bat. When that happens from a story perspective, you're naturally going to have to juggle a lot of different characters and you'll realize very soon that you only have so much room in, what's hopefully story one. Our mantra as the team behind this movie is always kind of, movie one first, you know, let's just make that great. Let's not think about anything else.
You only have so much room and what one of the hardest things has been from a writing standpoint is saying, "Okay, who makes sense for this first film?" and "Who makes more sense for what would be maybe a subsequent chapter of this world?" I think a lesson we'll learn from Annihilation, the second film is the more you try to cram into a movie, the more characters you try to cram in, I think they end up just getting lost and they feel like they're just thrown in for no reason and that was something that we really wanted to avoid.
If we're going to put characters into this, we want to make sure that they had a chance to really be developed, that they're fleshed out and that they play a real role in the story. So in terms of the actual choosing of the characters, it's just gonna be a lot of familiar faces for sure. I think most of the characters that you know and love will hopefully get in there. If a character is not in there, it's because it was kind of decided that it's better off saved for a later point where they can actually really shine and be developed appropriately.
So I do have to ask this question, you kind of touched on it a little bit. Obviously, we're well into the world of franchises, right? Hollywood's always looking for the next big franchise. You said you do want to focus on movie one and then obviously there's always the possibility for sequels. Marvel introduced this whole new monster and kind of upset the status quo with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, right? Had there had been any talk of doing a universe of sorts or maybe film and TV or is it mainly 99% just on the film right now?
I think that's a good question and I will give you the truthful answer. I might repeat myself slightly, but yeah, the mantra from the studio, from the creative team behind the first film is we really are focusing on that first film. We don't think beyond where we are. Right? You have to earn your success in this business. I think that's something that we can all agree on. You know, you don't get a sequel if you don't make the first film great. So I think everybody is just pouring their heart and soul into this first film to make sure that it's exciting, that it delivers across the board in everything that people want and in success, hopefully, we can have further chapters.
Now that's the main answer but I wouldn't be doing my job as a writer if I'm not always thinking, "Where can I go? Where can I build this out?" It would be almost foolish to write one story without ever thinking about where would the story go so in my mind, yeah, I know where I would go in subsequent films. I think I have a pretty strong roadmap on where in terms of the world and the characters that aren't going to appear in this world. I have a plan for where they would show up moving forward and yeah, I think there's also some ideas percolating in terms of other mediums in terms of television too. We're really just telling you about right now, how do we make this first film great?
Absolutely. This kind of ties into that, you know MK11 just it kind of ends towards the end with a hint of remaking realities or something of that nature. Is there any chance this has kind of like a game type crossover or are these two distinct separate universes?
You know, I don't know. I think that's something that will be discussed I think down the line. All I can say to that is that we have been talking to NetherRealm. We're all under, I guess what is now the AT&T umbrella, you know. We're all under that umbrella. So we've talked to them, we have shared things with them and there have been discussions about if we're all talking about the same brand and we're all playing in that same sandbox, how do they find a way to integrate those different channels together? And that's just really just smart business plan. If you have an interesting brand, how do you find ways down the road to make sure that the interactive team and the games team, and the film and et cetera, et cetera, all find interesting ways to tie into each other?
Okay. News just broke kind of earlier this month about Space Invaders. How's that coming along?
It's good. It's something I'm kind of still just kind of getting started with but you know, Space Invaders was the first game I ever played. My dad brought home an Atari 2600 and we didn't have a lot of money, so it was really it was exciting to get an Atari 2600 and that was the first, it was the only game we had. I played the Hell out of that thing, so for me, that was my introduction to gaming and I think for a lot of people it was one of the real, what's the word? I guess it was like The Godfather of gaming, you know, that was what started so many different things. That it created so many trends. From even just shooting at anything before that, you didn't even have an automatic gun and firing it at an approaching enemy. I mean, just to think of how many things it started, but it's good.
My whole thing with that property was I didn't want to ... I'd seen so many alien invasion movies you know, that I didn't want to take it on. I didn't want to even consider it if I couldn't bring something new to it. If I couldn't find a way to subvert expectations for something like that, then it didn't interest me. So, I mean I sat on it for a long time, I would say off and on for about six months until I finally found a way to crack it in a fun way that when you see the trailer for it, you'd be like, "Holy Shit!" Like I never would've thought that, But that's really an awesome way to approach that property. So we'll see. Still early days.
We're all game nerds, we're all comic book nerds here. Surely as a screenwriter, you'd love to hop on one of these Marvel or DC properties, right? What's your one grail of sorts? What one property would you love to take the reins of?
Yeah. Wow. That's a really good question. Oh man, there's a lot of to be had. Isn't there? I grew up, I mean I was predominantly a DC guy growing up. You know, Batman was my jam. That was my guy just because I think that the rogues gallery could never be matched. I think he's got the single greatest rogues gallery of any superhero in existence and I love what they're doing with Joker. I think that looks really exciting. You know, if I could do anything I would plead to Warner Brothers and say, "Hey, look at all the other villains. There are other things we can do!" Like, oh man, to do a smaller budget Riddler film or something like that. That'd be so much fun.
Just to play with those characters and then find a way to tie them all into a world together would be really exciting. But I'm really excited to see what they do with that. Yeah, if it were me, I would love to play in the world of Batman somewhere. Oh my God. It would be awesome.
Awesome. So is it safe to say Keaton's your Batman??
What if I just said Clooney like straight up.
Hey man, whatever floats your boat.
No, I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I love Keaton, man. He would be Batman to the best. I mean how would he not? Batman Returns is probably my favorite. It's so wonderfully cheesy but so cool. I mean I just watched it again the other week and man, it was just so brilliant.
One final question. We have Mortal Kombat, we have Space Invaders. In the same vein, the superhero stuff is there too. I mean Space Invaders is just such a bonkers, off the wall idea. Where's it go from here? What other games or adaptations are in that crazy mind of yours?
Well, I am also adapting Saints Row, talking about crazy off the wall. That is going to, we are going to outer space. No, not literally outer space, but talking about crazy off the wall, we're going nuts with that one. So that's going to be a blast. I think like all of the like weird meets Escape from New York, you know with the tone of like Kingsman. It's going to be fun.
You said you went to the arcade and played MK2. Is there kind of one property you think would make a really good movie?
I would love to figure out a way to do BioShock and I've tried. I've been like elbowing everybody I can possibly find because I think I have a really awesome way to do it that would be really fun and bring the horror of it to the forefront and hopefully keep the budget at a manageable price. But yeah, that's one that I'd absolutely adore, that'd be a lot of fun to work on.
Mortal Kombat currently has a release date of March 5, 2021.
What characters are you hoping to see in the Mortal Kombat reboot? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!