It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s been a busy year for writer Jeremy Adams. Not only has he been writing the ongoing Flash comic series from DC Comics, but 2021 also sees the release of quite a few direct-to-video animated projects he’s written for Warner Bros. Animation. His latest, Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, is a sequel to last year’s smash-hit Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, that achieved what few live-action movies have been able to accomplish and actually make a good video game adaptation.
The Beat had a chance to chat with Jeremy Adams about the genesis of these Mortal Kombat animated projects, dealing with the complex mythology of the franchise, and the lesson for Hollywood in making live-action video game movies.
Taimur Dar: Immediately after Scorpion’s Revenge was released last year, fans kept asking if there was going to be a sequel. You obviously couldn’t say anything until it was officially announced so I’m curious was doing two Mortal Kombat animated movies back-to-back always the plan?
Jeremy Adams: Yeah. Basically, we were going to be able to do two. I knew that up front and we tried to plan it accordingly. Of course, with animation, you have to be quiet for a long time. It was great training for being a spy!
For the first one, we wanted it to be an on-ramp for people who may be familiar but not totally familiar with Mortal Kombat. With the second one, Rick [Morales] was really enthusiastic about exploring this world. They built up this enormous mythology and history. Even I didn’t know how much they had done. It became an incredibly fertile ground to start pulling story from. The first one is a revenge story in the backdrop of this Mortal Kombat battle, and now we’re dealing with gods and dimensions and war and crazy superpowers.
Dar: A lot of sequels fall into the trap of copying the first movie like Home Alone or The Hangover films. Even though there’s still the tournament aspect in Battle of the Realms, you definitely aren’t repeating the first film. Clearly, some of the story takes its cues from the original Mortal Kombat video games but what else influenced Battle of the Realms?
Adams: Oh mean, what else? It’s almost all like one thing. We talk about Cyrax and Sektor and Sub-Zero plot and Smoke and the Kamidogu. We were just pulling from everything, really! We were just trying to figure out how to weave it all together because we wanted people to realize this was a bigger thing than they might know. If you talk to someone on the street, they’re probably going to be like, “Yeah, it’s a fighting game with tournaments and saving the world.” But there’s so much more mythology to it.
I can’t rattle off the individual games right now. But we did try to pull from all the games we could. Even in the first movie [with] the Quan Chi element and the Temple of Elements. Everything is a piece of a puzzle that they put in the different games that we are trying to put together in one big mega Mortal Kombat movie.
Dar: As you mentioned, Mortal Kombat is an IP like Star Wars and Game of Thrones with an enormous history and cast of characters. Kitana and Mileena for instance, are in the Battle of the Realms and fans already know their backstories but it isn’t delved too deeply in the films specifically how Mileena is the cloned sister of Kitana. How did you go about figuring out what not to include?
Adams: Some of the stuff that you’re talking about, it got so long that we had to take some stuff out. To that regard, the Edenia stuff I think could be its own movie in my mind. There’s just so much stuff there. Kitana we hint at stuff and we talk about it. We’re catching up with her where she comes from a place of rebellion. But really, it’s a much bigger story. Hopefully, it will give people enough of a taste that they want to find out more. The fall of Edenia would be an incredibly cool movie.
The pressure [for me] is I’ve got a sequel movie that deals with tournaments. We have certain actors and characters that need to be in it. I try to thread that needle of which characters to use and which characters not to use. And which characters will I not be able to use. There are definitely people I wasn’t allowed to use. There’s a lot of considerations when putting them together. Like I said, part of the goal for this movie was for people to walk out and go, “Gosh, I didn’t know Mortal Kombat was so big!” Hopefully, that will give them an appetite to explore other characters. There could be twenty movies that are just individual characters because they have such intense big backstories.
Dar: It’s funny you talk about characters you were allowed to kill off because I’ve been watching James Gunn’s incredible Suicide Squad film repeatedly for the past month. Both in Suicide Squad and these Mortal Kombat films, the way you kill off characters is an art form. In both Mortal Kombat and Suicide Squad, there are certain characters you automatically know as soon as you see them that they are cannon fodder. So I’m really curious how you went about picking which characters would be killed.
Adams: Yeah, it’s hard! The hard part is you’re dealing with a game that is primarily about killing each other. [Laughs]. You know going in [that] you’re going to have to kill off characters and you know those characters are going to be someone’s favorite characters by virtue of any genre-specific IP. You have people who will die quickly, but you’re hoping that those deaths mean something [like] Kung Lao or will spur somebody on or be a catalyst for somebody else to do something. And then sometimes you kill people because you want to illustrate how terrible the other side is. I’m thinking of Stryker. That to me was the most gruesome thing I’ve seen. I was blown away by the way they did that. It’s tricky! There’s no way around it. It’s hard for me to write that stuff. I don’t want them to die. But maybe I can bring them back somehow! That’s how I think of things because I’ve grown up with comics. That makes it easier. [Laughs].
Dar: I think it’s safe to say there’s kind of a low bar for video game films, but you not only wrote a decent video game film but one that’s actually excellent. So what’s the secret sauce for adapting a video game into a film?
Adams: Honestly, I think it’s about taking it seriously. I know that sounds weird. Real stakes. Real drama. Something that Jim Krieg is all about, there has to be a lot of heart. I don’t want to be memed in the Vin Diesel, “It’s all about family,” but it is! You need a certain element of why should we care. John Wick is the best example of this. When it first came out, I remember people saying, “You’ve got to see this movie. They kill his puppy!” And I remember thinking, “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard!” And then you go and see it and you’re like, “These people killed his puppy! They all deserve to die!” They built this thing where you have this emotion and empathy. And you’re willing to go with the action because the action has meaning. I think it’s so important.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD