MORTAL KOMBAT: BATTLE OF THE REALMS Interview: Producer Rick Morales Teases The Bloody Sequel (Exclusive)

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms producer Rick Morales talks about working with NetherRealm, the sequel's fight scenes, a scrapped opening with Nightwolf, and the animated franchise's future...

Picking up shortly after the explosive finale of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's RevengeMortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms follows a team of heroes who are besieged by the enemy forces of Shao Kahn. Raiden and his group of warriors are forced into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms; Scorpion, meanwhile, must find the ancient Kamidogu before it's used to resurrect the One Being to avert the destruction of all things.

Last week, we caught up with producer Rick Morales to discuss the sequel. If his name is familiar, it's likely because you've seen it attached to a whole host of animated projects, including Ultimate Spider-Man, Young Justice, and Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (to name just a few). 

Now in charge of this animated Mortal Kombat franchise, Rick talks us through the process of working with NetherRealm, the level of creative freedom he was given in terms of lifting the extreme violence from the games, and the potential of these characters in animation moving forward. 

He also reveals plans for a scrapped Nightwolf opening scene and explains the work that goes into deciding who is a leading character and which heroes and villains fall into a supporting category. 

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms arrives August 31 on 4K/Blu-ray & Digital!


What was the process of working with NetherRealm and Ed Boon like when it came to putting together a project as ambitious as Mortal Kombat: Battle of the Realms

You know what, it really was super smooth. We pitched story ideas to them; we had a lot of meetings early on about the script and where we were gonna take it and who we’re going to kill, who we’re not going to kill, and all that stuff. Then, we go away for a little while, come back to them, and say: ‘How are we doing?’ [Laughs] It’s really smooth working with those guys. They’re great partners. Ed is just a really cool guy. He gives good notes. That’s what you want from a partner: someone who knows the material and he obviously does. He’s the creator and knows this stuff back and forth. We rely on them to keep us honest as far as how we’re treating the characters, handling them, and staying true to the lore that’s been established. The good thing about it too is that they give us some leeway. They’re not slavish to what’s come before and, in fact, a lot of times they’ll ask us to see some new stuff and locations, showing different parts of these worlds that haven’t been explored in the games. 

Things do get very bloody at times which I’m sure fans of the games will love, but was there anything that Warner Bros. or NetherRealm felt was too violent for this animated franchise or were you able to just go nuts?

So, let me think about that...we have a tremendous amount of freedom as far as that goes. For myself and the director, Ethan [Spaulding], we were always pushing. For instance, you’ll do things in animation sometimes where you cut away because you don’t want to show a hit to the face or you don’t want to show the blood or whatever. We, of course, encouraged and pushed our artists to lean into that and really make it as impactful, bloody, gory, and violent as possible. It has to live up to the Mortal Kombat video games. I don’t recall getting much pushback on the violence to any degree on this film. With the first film, we got one note, and it was about killing Scoprion’s kid at the beginning and to not show that. Obviously, understood because nobody wanted to show a kid getting killed! That was the big pushback, but there wasn’t a whole lot of it. In fact, I remember, early on we have the big invasion and battle at the beginning of the film and there’s a lot of gore. I was pushed by executives in that particular sequence as they were saying, ‘Oh, should we go a little further here?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay, sure!’ [Laughs]

There are so many characters in this franchise, all of whom have their respective fans, so how difficult is it to decide who gets a leading role, who’s there in a supporting capacity, and so on?

All those decisions are very difficult. I wanted to get as many characters into this as we could, thinking, ‘We’ve got one more shot at this and if this is the last Mortal Kombat movie we’re allowed to do, we want to throw as much in there as we can.’ Obviously, we knew this film was going to be Liu Kang’s film; that was always our plan. The first movie was really Scorpion’s, but this one is Liu Kang as he’s the heart of it and his story is the main driving force as I think it should be. He’s such an important character in the Mortal Kombat Universe and, of course, we’ve got Joel McHale coming back as Johnny Cage and Jeffifer Carpenter as Sonya Blade. So, Johnny and Sonya bring so much comedy to this that it stops things from getting too bleak too quickly. 

We knew we needed those guys as main supporting characters, and I wanted to do more with Jax. I’ve always been a big fan of his and because of the role he played in the first one, we didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with him. Bringing in Jax...Ike Amadi does such a great job with his voice that I just wanted more of him. Those were the no-brainer that I think we knew about early on. Scorpion’s story had to continue and I really wanted to bring Sub-Zero into this in a larger role because of my fandom for the character [Laughs]. Again, him being such a big character in the Mortal Kombat Universe, I knew he had to be there. 

Then it comes down to who the secondary characters are going to be, who the tertiary characters are, and we had a lot of discussions with NetherRealm based on who we should use, who we shouldn’t use, and who we wanted to bring back from the first movie. At one point, Jeremy [Adams] and I had a whole whiteboard filled with names like a tournament bracket saying, ‘This person is gonna fight this person in this round’ and we had it all worth out in a really linear way. However, as you go in and start writing, you realise that character isn’t really playing the role they need to and it would be an injustice to include them if they’re going to get such short shrift. A lot of characters naturally fell away. For example, one I can bring up is Nightwolf. Very early on, Jeremy and I basically opened the movie with him and really wanted to include him as he’s such an important character. As we got deeper into the story, though, he just didn’t fit and fell away. 

I have to ask, what, if anything, can you tease about the Injustice movie that’s heading our way later this year? 

Yeah! Absolutely [Laughs]. I think, for me, it made a lot of sense because they're both NetherRealm projects and it shares a commonality with Mortal Kombat. I think if you like some of the violence in Mortal Kombat, you'll be pleased with Injustice. How about that? [Laughs]

You’re no stranger to the DC Animated Universe, but do you see Mortal Kombat as a franchise that could spawn just as many movies, TV shows, shorts, and spinoffs? 

Yeah, absolutely. That was the lightbulb moment years ago and first mentioned this project. It was just like, ‘Ding! How has this not been done? How are we not working on this stuff?’ This is an obvious franchise as there are so many characters and so much history. There are thirty years of stories in the games and outside them in comic books and everything they’ve released. There are so many places, so many story opportunities, so many great characters...I really do think this is a franchise that could stand alongside the DC Animated Universe. I think it is something like that and could be. Hopefully, we’ve done a good enough job for people to want to continue exploring it as some of these characters are capable of holding their own in solo movies. You could do an entire film about Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, or Sonya. You could go outside of the tournament setting or explore different aspects of it. There are just so many story possibilities with these characters, especially for us. In these first two films, we’ve basically covered the basics of Mortal Kombat. Now, I feel like the world is really wide open and you could explore it in any way. 

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