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The Real Reason Johnny Cage Wasn't In Mortal Kombat

If you saw the new film "Mortal Kombat," which dropped on HBO Max on April 23 and in theaters, you were treated to plenty of gory, fatality-heavy action in the style of the video game franchise that started in 1992, featuring fan-favorite characters like Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). However, you may have noticed one glaring omission when it comes to iconic characters from the fighting game you were sure would make it to the 2021 version of the movie. 

The new "Mortal Kombat" introduces a new, never-before-seen protagonist in Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who has a connection to another famed "Mortal Kombat" fighter. Cole is a failed mixed martial arts fighter with a family, getting in over his head when he's attacked by the intimidating Sub-Zero for reasons he does not understand. As a newcomer to the "Mortal Kombat" universe, Cole serves a clear, outsider-based narrative purpose. "I think it's a really interesting way to show audiences that don't know the game a new perspective," Tan told Nerdist. "It's also good to create a cinematic experience that's going to honor the game and what people are used to but also give them something fresh and new when they go to the theaters and watch it. So that's what I like about the character. But it's a tricky character to play because there's a lot of pressure because there's not an established fan base."

The character is controversial, of course, because he is so new. And his presence makes it very obvious that there's a big player missing from Earthrealm's "Mortal Kombat" roster: Johnny Cage, one of the original game's seven fighters, who was played by Linden Ashby in the 1995 version of the movie. But, as it turns out, there's a big reason for Cage's absence, and it makes some sense. 

Johnny Cage and Kano together were considered too much for the 2021 film

It sounds like the folks involved in the movie all agree: Johnny Cage was too big to be included in the movie. "The reason [Johnny Cage] is not in this original film is he's such a giant personality that he almost has his own gravitational field," director Simon McQuoid told Variety.

In an interview with Inverse, screenwriter Greg Russo said that as he got into the story he realized the omission made sense. "The reason Cage is not in the movie has nothing to do with Cole. It has to do with Kano," he said. "When I was designing the story, I didn't want the traditional 'three heroes save the day,' because you have three people with the same perspective. I love conflict. I love Kano because he's an a**hole and a self-serving prick. That creates conflict. Once everybody knew Kano would be part of [the story], his personality became really big. Really egotistical. That's Johnny Cage, too. I played with Johnny and Kano in scenes together, and it was too much. It was two identical personalities and it took away from everyone else." 

Kano indeed has a swaggering, comic individualism in the new "Mortal Kombat" film, which plays a significant role in the plot. Adding Johnny Cage's cocky, spotlight-seeking personality to the mix does, in retrospect, seem a bit much.

At a press event for the film, producer Todd Garner reinforced this viewpoint. Calling Johnny Cage "the elephant in the room," Garner said (via Cinema Blend), "He needs his own space. It's very hard to just throw him in a movie, like I said, with Kano. So, taking him out was very easy not only for the movie, but for the sequel. I want to make a sequel, and I've now got Johnny Cage, which hasn't been used in the first one. So, I have a big stick and carrot that maybe they'll let me have a Johnny Cage real presence in the second one."

Producers also felt uncomfortable giving the Asian-inspired films such a bombastic white male presence

At the same press event, as reported by Comic Book, Garner followed these comments by pointing out the disparity between the cultural overtones "Mortal Kombat" represents and Johnny Cage. "And secondarily, when you think about 'Mortal Kombat,' if you just think about the patina of the movie, it has a very Asian feel to it," he said. "And I early on felt uncomfortable having a white male lead kind of lead that charge in the first movie. It just felt Hollywoodish to me, which is weird because he's an actor, which also is weird. And probably my bias of... it just feels weird if I'm trying to do, and I was, do something different and diverse and true." Garner added that it seemed like a cop-out, but that introducing Cage in a "big, bombastic fun way" in the second movie, should there be one, might be better. 

For the record, Cole Young actor Tan is mixed-race Chinese and British, according to Hapa magazine. He's also a legacy martial artist whose father was a champion.

As for a sequel, the "Mortal Kombat" film has clearly been set up for one. In fact, Cole is tasked at the end of the movie with a mission to find more fighters. And the pieces appear to be in place for such a sequel: Joe Taslim, who plays Sub-Zero, revealed to Variety that he's committed to four more potential films, so you can bet other actors are too. As viewers know, there's plenty of content for future sequels to deal with, since this movie didn't even get into the actual tournament. Presumably, the actual contest would take place in a future film, perhaps as a climactic event. And, if more films come, perhaps fans will get to see additional characters that didn't make it into this movie, such as Kitana, Shao Kahn, Sindel, and Jade.