‘Mortal Kombat’ Director Simon McQuoid on Sequel Plans, Major Deaths and Johnny Cage

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

SPOILER WARNING: Do not read if you have not seen “Mortal Kombat,” available now in theaters and on HBO Max.

Director Simon McQuoid’s “Mortal Kombat” builds the groundwork for what could be a gory action franchise, and star Joe Taslim already told Variety that he’s signed up for four more movies if Warner Bros. decides to go ahead with additional installments.

The movie features several threads that could be explored in further films, “joiner pieces” that McQuoid intentionally added. The most obvious comes in the film’s final frame, which shows a movie poster for fictional Hollywood superstar and iconic “Mortal Kombat” video game character Johnny Cage. Protagonist Cole Young (Lewis Tan) remarks that he’s off to Los Angeles in search of more Mortal Kombat fighters, directly setting up a possible sequel.

Several major characters die in the movie, but “Mortal Kombat” fans know that death isn’t permanent in the video game franchise. Sub-Zero (Taslim) is burnt to a crisp by Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) has his soul sucked out by master villain Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Not to be forgotten, Kano (Josh Lawson), Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Kabal (Daniel Nelson), Nitara (Mel Jarnson), Reiko (Nathan Jones) and Goro (Angus Sampson) all meet grisly ends.

McQuoid told Variety, “I don’t want death to be something that is inconsequential” and “certainly Sub-Zero has some opportunities.” In the end, we see Shang Tsung conspicuously retrieve Sub-Zero’s corpse in a puff of black smoke. In the games, the original Sub-Zero died and was resurrected as the undead ninja Noob Saibot, which could be what McQuoid hints at.

In a spoiler-filled conversation with Variety, McQuoid discusses sequel ideas, undead fighters and what other characters he’d like to see in a potential follow-up.

Are there any plans or ideas you have for a sequel?

Sequels are a bit tricky because you can’t totally ignore them, because that wouldn’t be a smart move, but none of us used the “s-word.” We’d never talk about it in any depth whatsoever because we feel like we have to put all our energy into this film. That being said, if the fans want another one, that’s not for us to decide; that’s for the fans to decide. Then, we need a couple of joiner pieces that we know can lead us somewhere because there’s a treasure trove of stuff that’s just sitting there.

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. The feeling was that he would throw it out of balance slightly. I get asked about Kitana just as much as Johnny Cage. There’s a lot of interesting characters, story and material to work with. So we haven’t really dug into it; we just know we’re very privileged that’s sitting there. If we do get to that, and I’m not saying we will, I’m just saying if — big “if” — then we’ll go down that path.

What other characters would you want to include in a potential sequel?

I guess I’d like to shift it to be a little more female. There are some fantastic female characters in “Mortal Kombat.” And I think we can bring balance there, to a better extent. There were no other specific characters we really wanted to put in. Very early on, there was a scene with Rain, but he wasn’t being done justice and wasn’t driving the story forward. That’s a reason he got put back on the bench. There are a lot of characters to choose from. I’ve been so busy trying to calibrate this ensemble that I haven’t thought too much about any others beyond just understanding who people really love, who gets talked about a lot and who are really interesting characters.

Is it safe to say being dead might not mean someone is actually dead in this universe?

Well, yes, if you just look at the game, it’s exactly what the game has done in a really interesting way. I think we can perhaps learn from [the games] and try to do something interesting — again, there’s a big asterisk on all of this. I think the way they handle timelines and alternative iterations of the same character is really interesting. It doesn’t always mean that character comes back, “Oh, I’ve been reincarnated. I’m the same.” There’s some really interesting evolution and growth of these characters. The experience of death informs who they become. So I guess I don’t want death to be something that is inconsequential. That is something I certainly thought about as we discussed this story and what that means. So I think there are opportunities there, and certainly Sub-Zero has some opportunities.

Despite being titled “Mortal Kombat,” the characters don’t actually fight in a Mortal Kombat tournament, possibly saving it for the future. Was that always the plan?

The story came out of this idea that we didn’t just want to redo the first film. If you look at “Mortal Kombat’s” evolution over the decades, that has evolved and grown beyond the idea of the tournament. That’s obviously essential within the DNA of “Mortal Kombat,” and it’s one of the fundamentals, if you look at where the story has gone. The idea of a tournament within a script informs a certain structure and rhythm. We didn’t really want to serve that. To serve a tournament idea, you have to build it a certain way. So it was a couple of reasons that came to it playing out in the way it did.

Cole Young is the only original character in the movie. Was he always envisioned to be a descendant of Scorpion?

He was always connected to Scorpion. His character evolved because with the other characters, there was less sideways movement. We had to be very specific with bringing those characters to life the right way, and they came with their own set of properties that we had to respect and amplify. With Cole, we had some license. We gave ourselves a couple of rules. We wanted him to be built out of the material that is within “Mortal Kombat,” so it made sense to have him as an MMA fighter. It made sense to have a daughter and family aspect. We thought, “If you were playing him in the game, what would be a good power to have? Let’s treat him as a game character and film character.” It was a constant process of building him and to have him born out of blood. His power really comes out of the combination of the kunai blade in Netherrealm and the energy within.