Pop Culture

The DC Superhero Films Need More Mortal Kombat

Side note: the fact that Supergirl wasn't in Justice League is pretty much all the evidence we need that Warner Bros isn't doing a good job.
Side note: the fact that Supergirl wasn't in Justice League is pretty much all the evidence we need that Warner Bros isn't doing a good job. Screencap from Injustice 2
Let’s get some Band-Aid’s ripped off first, okay? Justice League did not perform as hoped. That’s not to say it was bad or that I didn’t like it. It was, I did,  but it wasn't The Avengers. We can quibble the box office numbers until the end of days, but I think it’s inarguable that the monolithic team film Warner Bros. was hoping for as a counterterpoint to the Marvel juggernaut simply did not happen. Aside from Wonder Woman, the DCEU has been forgettable and dull.

So, let’s talk about the man actually not boring the heck out of us in a licensed DC property. Let’s talk about Ed Boon.

Boon, along with John Tobias, gave us Mortal Kombat. I’m not entirely certain where Tobias has gone over the years, but Boon has stayed with what is now NetherRealm Studios to create arguably the finest fighting games in the world. There are five, for the purposes of this article. There are two Mortal Kombats, two Injustices, and a crossover game.

I consider Mortal Kombat (2009) to be one of the best examples of retconning in storytelling ever. I knock off points for some of the more ridiculous sexist content, but all that was easily fixed in the sequel, which also added a whole new fascinating set of characters to move the story along. As a template for a licensed universe like DC, it was damned near perfect. 

I just took another run-through the Injustice story modes, parts 1 and 2, back to back. I can honestly say that the storyline of the games far beats anything Suicide Squad was capable of plotwise. More than that, they were able to conjure what the DCEU lacks so far; a compelling, running franchise storyline.

Warner Bros has been gasping for its next Harry Potter for a while now. Fantastic Beasts is fun, but it’s nowhere the financial success of Potter and the next film has the albatross of the problematic Johnny Depp cast as the villain to deal with. The DC films have been profitable, but lacking in critical acclaim. Also, WB has apparently managed to smother Mad Max in its crib despite oodles of dollars and Oscar gold. The studio really wants a reliable running concern and seems incapable of creating one.

Compare it to what Boon has managed with the DC characters. Injustice more or less follows the Elseworld tale Red Son, where Superman becomes a dictator who allows his desire to protect people turn him into a tyrant. Batman vs. Superman flirted with the concept without having the spine to really make it work.

The first game is your basic alternative universe fight fest. It’s got a lot of extra weight in the script seeing as the point is to work in as many bouts as possible, but the overall arc of Superman’s fall to the dark side is solid. Lex Luthor in particular comes across as an amazingly complex character with a genius final act that outdoes the ridiculous “Martha” bit in BvS.

Picking up in the second game, the alternative universe gets mainly resolved and the remaining heroes and villains have to deal with the invasion of Brainiac and the fall of Superman’s regime. There are some weak spots to keep popular favorites like Green Arrow and Joker in the mix, but it’s more than made up for by great moments with Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Gorilla Grodd and Damian Wayne. It ends on a perfect, Empire Strikes Back-stlye cliffhanger as the brief setting aside of differences restores the despotic Superman to power with Batman his slave.

I bring this up in detail because I literally can’t wait to see what happens next in the Injustice universe. Honestly, I don’t even play the games. I just wait a few days after the release and spend a happy evening streaming the story mode on YouTube in my living room. I couldn’t tell you what I’m looking forward to in the upcoming DC films if my life depended on it except maybe more period drama with Wonder Woman. Certainly the fallout from Steppenwolf as we trudge towards the inevitable appearance of Darkseid doesn’t excite me. There’s virtually no movement in the movie universe.

Somehow the game about random battles has more heart than the movies that overuse those same battles. Boon can make three sentences of intro dialogue more compelling than Zack Snyder can make ten minutes of backstory and pensive landscape shots. Injustice 2 threw in Darkseid as a guest character. That’s how strong Boon’s DC Universe is. He can waste someone that integral as an extra and the game only gets better.

If Warner Bros wants their DC movies to have real grip, they should be plugging in their Playstations. Ed Boon seems to effortlessly create everything the films fail to make, and manages to work in a whole other universe at the same time (Injustice has Mortal Kombat characters as well as Hellboy and the Ninja Turtles). That massive juggernaut of multiple entries they want so bad could be much closer to reality of they’d pay attention to the games.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner