The Mortal Kombat reboot is starting fresh with a new protagonist, and that character is Cole Young, an MMA fighter portrayed by Lewis Tan. We could’ve had Liu Kang as a lead again, or perhaps Johnny Cage, but the former is only an Earthrealm combatant in the new movie while the latter is (so far) nowhere to be found. The decision to go with a new protagonist was met with a degree of criticism to be expected from fans who’ve long since found their favorites in a series that’s been running for decades, but fixating Cole Young as the new lead is one of the best decisions we could hope for if the movie (and its potential sequels) hopes to succeed.
Cole will likely serve multiple purposes in the movie, but as the film’s producer Todd Garner has explained, one of those purposes is to be a fresh perspective for newcomers. Everyone else like Sonya Blade and Jax might be in on the history of Mortal Kombat already, but Cole Young sure isn’t, and that’s why we need him.
The restricted trailer shown above illustrates that point perfectly. Sonya gives Cole a crash course in Mortal Kombat – the tournament which takes place in the franchise’s universe, not the franchise itself. Cole then asks, “These are your champions?” which is the perfect setup for Sonya, Kano, Liu Kang, Jax, and Kung Lao to be introduced. That scene probably doesn’t play out exactly that way in the movie itself, but that’s five core Mortal Kombat characters down already, and we haven’t even gotten to the movie itself yet!
We have Cole to thank for those needed introductions, but why not forgo those and just get on with the movie? Surely people who’ve followed Mortal Kombat for years wouldn’t confuse Jax with Kano nor Kung Lao with Liu Kang, right?
That might be true, but if the Mortal Kombat movie wants to be successful and set up a future for the rebooted films, it needs more than those diehard fans, and it even needs more than the casual ones, too. It needs people who are tentatively interested in Mortal Kombat, the ones who maybe played Mortal Kombat 11 when it launched but didn’t keep up with the game enough to purchase its multitudes of DLC afterward. It needs the people who watch “Top 10 Mortal Kombat 11 Fatalities” on YouTube because they want to see someone’s spine get ripped out but don’t necessarily need a lore explainer to make the Fatality more meaningful. And if the movie needs those people, it needs Cole Young.
The fact is, Mortal Kombat’s stories can be as difficult to get into as fighting games themselves if you’re unfamiliar. Mortal Kombat has dozens upon dozens of characters who exist in some games but not others and have complicated relationships with each other. Most people can piece together why the fire guy’s fighting the ice guy in any Mortal Kombat story, but once you start talking about Shao Kahn’s family, differing timelines, and the Bi-Han/Sub-Zero/Noob Saibot dynamic, you might lose some people.
Without Cole, people would still watch Mortal Kombat. Those flashy Fatalities are too good to ignore even if the rest of the story doesn’t live up to the effects, and the promise of a superpowered slugfest that lasts for nearly two hours is an enticing offer. It doesn't even have to be Cole specifically that we experience Mortal Kombat through so long as there's someone with questions to ask who can walk newcomers through the backstory. But to maximize the interest in Mortal Kombat and to ensure those newcomers come back, we need someone like Cole.
He’ll be more than just the vehicle for understanding Mortal Kombat, of course. He’s evidently a gifted fighter even before he’s roped into the tournament, and from previews of Mortal Kombat we’ve seen already, he’ll eventually get some imposing armor and weapons of his own. Cole might need an introduction to the rest of the cast, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll need much additional training to take on his foes.
Perhaps Cole will get his own Fatality that’ll rank among the other fan-favorites, and perhaps his character will become a new favorite himself. Maybe he’ll end up being descended from Scorpion, or maybe he’ll be the new Johnny Cage (fighter), or maybe we’ll see him added to a Mortal Kombat game eventually. Whatever the future holds for Cole, we can appreciate his role in the movie and the potential he holds for its sequels.