This article contains major spoilers for the Mortal Kombat ending.
When you think of Mortal Kombat, odds are you think of Scorpion and Sub-Zero, which is just as well since virtually all of the stories the franchise is interested in telling seem to be about them. This year’s installment, the first live-action movie since 1997, is no different, though it admittedly sidelines the ages-old rivalry for most of the movie. That rivalry is where the movie starts, though, and since what’s set up in the prologue plays a big part in the Mortal Kombat ending, so shall we.
Before Sub-Zero had his cool name and outfit, he was Bi-Han, a Chinese assassin of the Lin Kuei responsible for the murder of Hanzo Hasashi, aka Scorpion, and his entire family besides a young child, saved by Lord Raiden. Because of this act, Hasashi’s bloodline lives on, stretching through the centuries to Cole Young, a new character who exists primarily so that series’ stalwarts can explain the franchise’s mythology to him.
Here’s the tl;dr version. Earthrealm is our world, essentially, and Outworld is a ridiculous dimension full of monsters and despotic maniacs. The two realms have an agreement to regularly stage inter-realm fighting tournaments known as Mortal Kombat, during which the best warriors from each realm square off to determine an ultimate victor. Ten wins in a row mean one realm can conquer the other, and in this version of the story as well as basically every other version ever, Earthrealm has suffered nine straight defeats and are on the cusp of invasion. Also, Outworld never, ever play fair, and the constant loopholes the various iterations of this story come up with to let them cheat is frequently hilarious.
Anyway, Cole exists as basically an audience POV vessel for all this exposition. He’s a washed-up MMA fighter who competes on short notice for peanuts, but thanks to his ancestry he has a dragon birthmark which denotes him one of Earthrealm’s champions. Thus, he’s picked up by Jax and Sonya Blade and taken to Raiden, Liu Kang, and Kung Lao for training, since in this version of the story all the magical powers that constitute special moves in the games are kind of champion-exclusive abilities that need to be unlocked – several of the major beats in the film are characters such as Kano and Sonya finally unlocking their unique talents.
This goes on for quite some time, in amongst various schemes by Outworld to off all of Earthrealm’s champions before a fair tournament can actually take place. This being Mortal Kombat, there’s a lot of fighting, a lot of grisly death, and a lot of recognizable characters from both realms squaring off for fisticuffs. In the process, Cole discovers his power, which is the ability to encase his upper body in armor and grow weapons from his arms (RIP Goro).
By the time Sub-Zero gets properly involved in all this, so too does Scorpion, but Sub-Zero rules so hard in this movie that Scorpion has to team up with Cole to defeat him. His defeat gives Shang Tsung the heebie-jeebies, though, so he legs it back to Outworld with the bodies of his dead champions, leaving Raiden and co. to prepare for the next tournament by recruiting more warriors – cue Johnny Cage teaser! – and Cole to preserve the Hasashi bloodline.
Will Cole get to do that in a sequel? The Mortal Kombat ending suggests so, but whether or not one materializes will depend on the success of this film. Thus far, though, things are looking positive, despite a mixed critical reception – including a middling review from yours truly. But there is a wealth of potential in the franchise’s history and mythology to craft innumerable sequels, and WarnerMedia is supposedly aiming for a few. We’ll have to wait and see, but I suspect there’s more kombat to come.