No one expected Mortal Kombat to be the streaming hit of the year. Released in the middle of the pandemic, people tuned in to see Earthrealm’s fighters square off against Shang Tsung’s thugs. Although, many fans were left confused by the decision to include Cole Young as the main protagonist of Mortal Kombat instead of Johnny Cage.
Created as an entirely new character for the film, Cole was the audience’s gateway to connect them to the lore. However, his addition didn’t exactly delight fans who saw him as taking up space that could’ve been used for other Mortal Kombat legends, such as Johnny Cage. As it turns out, the Hollywood actor had actually been considered alongside Cole.
Speaking CinemaBlend, screenwriter Greg Russo explained the decision to exclude the star of Citizen Cage from the film. “Johnny Cage is a character that we wanted to put in there. Ultimately, the reason he’s not in there is because of Kano, and we ended up loving Kano [Josh Lawson] in that role more,” he said. “I’d rather save them and do them right. Introduce them correctly later than try to jam them into a role where it doesn’t feel natural.”
When you consider Russo’s explanation, it makes sense. Kano was the wisecracking character that couldn’t believe what was happening around him. Cage would’ve been far too similar. At the same time, Kano is technically stealing JC’s schtick here, so couldn’t he have been rewritten differently?
Going back to Cole, there’s still a question mark about whether it was necessary for him to be the lead or not. Though, his inclusion could be fully justified by his story arc in Mortal Kombat 2. Everyone knows that Scorpion is the most popular character in the franchise, so there’s no way he’ll be absent in any sequels. With Hanzo Hasashi finally finding his resting place, everything points to Cole taking up the Scorpion mantle.
It’s the most logical narrative journey for Cole, as it’ll also bring this story closer to the video game universe. While he might not be the “original” Scorpion, it’s unlikely that fans would be too upset by this character evolution and level-up.
So, to answer the headline’s initial question, no. Cole shouldn’t have been Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat. There was always the chance that this film could’ve degenerated into Annihilation where every character in the universe cameos for no specific reason but to do a flip on screen. This way, the filmmakers ensured that there’s something to look forward to in further sequels.