In Mortal Kombat 2021, the main character, Lewis Tan’s Cole Young, makes a joke about the movie’s title, pointing out the misspelling of “combat.” While Mortal Kombat is full of plenty of gore and intensity, it does offer some levity as well. Much of the humor comes from Josh Lawson’s Kano, but Cole gets the movie’s most meta joke when he points out the misspelled title. While played for laughs in the movie, there’s actually a reason why the franchise has “Kombat” as its spelling.
Mortal Kombat 2021 is a fantasy action movie based on the popular video game franchise. Directed by Simon McQuoid, the movie follows Cole Young, a former MMA fighter who gets drawn into a tournament known as “Mortal Kombat.” In the film, much of the history of Mortal Kombat is explained by Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who has done extensive, worldwide research into the tournament. During the scene where she’s explaining this history to Cole, she points to a picture that says “Mortal Kombat” and Cole makes a crack about the title, insisting Sonya must have made it up. She ignores his comment, but the audience definitely gets the joke.
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There’s actually a very good reason why Mortal Kombat is spelled with a “K” rather than a “C” and it all comes down to a legal issue that stopped Midway Games from copyrighting the fighting game’s name. While it was a change made through force, the franchise has gone on to turn this into something of a theme, replacing most of the hard C’s in the games with K’s instead.
In an interview with The Gameological Society back in 2012, Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias said, “The ‘K’ in ‘Kombat’ came about during the trademark process in naming the game. We really liked ‘Mortal Combat’ as a name, but it couldn’t get past legal.” It seemed that it was too generic a coupling of words for Midway Games to get trademarked, so pinball designer Steve Ritchie — who worked at Midway — suggested changing the “C” to a “K,” making it Mortal Kombat.
While the simple choice of switching a letter may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, that change has likely contributed to the franchise’s success, making a somewhat generic-sounding title — so generic that they couldn’t even trademark it — into something distinct and memorable. Still, it is funny to think that one of the most famous game franchises in history appears to have a typo right in the title, which is why the new Mortal Kombat takes the opportunity for a perfectly timed, self-deprecating joke.
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