Mortal Kombat might be hiding the true identity of Cole Young from audiences, but who could he really be? The reboot of the Mortal Kombat film series hits theaters and HBO Max on April 16th (as part of the split streaming/theatrical model for Warner Bros. 2021 slate). Anticipation for the reboot, which was already high, is now booming after the trailer offered viewers their first real glimpse at what it has in store.
The trailer positions Mortal Kombat as the R-rated, off-the-chain tournament of pure martial arts carnage that fans of the games have waited decades for – full of the unique blend of supernatural abilities and horrific fatalities that are the staple of the franchise. The trailer also centers Lewis Tan’s MMA fighter Cole Young as the central protagonist of the reboot, with a dragon tattoo foreshadowing his connection to the tournament. Though the reboot is hardly short of characters from the games, Cole himself is no MK alumni. Or is he?
It could be that Mortal Kombat has presented Cole as a new addition to the franchise’s canon, while secretly setting him up as one of its most popular characters. With a genuine rising star like Lewis Tan playing the protagonist, along the with promise of non-stop gore and fatalities, Mortal Kombat could have one more trick up its sleeve with the revelation that Cole Young has actually been a character that’s appeared in the games many times over. Here are the possible candidates for who Cole Young could be in Mortal Kombat.
The first possibility is that Mortal Kombat is disguising Cole as the second Sub-Zero, Kuai Liang. The trailer places great emphasis on the famed rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, portrayed by Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim, who more specifically plays the Bi-Han Sub-Zero. The movie’s synopsis positions Bi-Han as pursuing Cole for some reason, and he will also reportedly serve as the major antagonist of the story. Obviously there’s some kind of connection between Bi-Han and Cole that hasn’t yet been revealed, and it could be that Cole is actually Bi-Han’s younger brother, Kuai Liang, who took up the Sub-Zero mantle in the games after his brother was killed by Scorpion (with Bi-Han himself later being resurrected as Noob Saibot).
The movie could establish their connection, and Cole’s apparent lack of knowledge of it, through some type of supernatural means, or by Cole simply using a pseudonym in his MMA career – but this being Mortal Kombat, some combination of the two might be the most plausible scenario. In any case, with Sub-Zero attempting to track down Cole and the story involving Cole unlocking his own metaphysical abilities, a link between the two of them has been set up right from the start. This could mean that the under-the-radar MMA fighter right at the center of Mortal Kombat‘s story could actually be a Lin Kuei warrior with unrevealed ice powers hiding right out in the open. Cole Young’s name itself might even be a subtle hint of his hidden identity as Kuai Liang, possibly being a similar pseudonym to Black Widow’s Natalie Rushman in Iron Man 2 before her real identity of Natasha Romanoff was revealed.
A second possibility for Cole’s secret identity is another MK mainstay, Johnny Cage. Though Mortal Kombat boasts a massive ensemble of Earthrealm warriors and other characters from the games, the absence of Johnny Cage has been acutely noticed. Even Goro was finally revealed in the new trailer, while a fleeting shot of a fight scene between Kano and an unidentified reptilian-looking creature could indicate the presence of Reptile. It seems odds that the reboot would omit one of the game’s most recognizable characters, and the franchise’s number one img of comic relief. That is, unless Johnny Cage has been reimagined in the form of Cole Young.
In comparison to the cocky, self-absorbed persona Johnny is known for, Mortal Kombat might have remolded him into someone who briefly came close to hitting it big in Hollywood, only to fall just short of his ambitions and now has turned his focus to an MMA career. Cole Young could now be the name Johnny fights under, or it might’ve also been the screen name Cole had taken on in his unsuccessful bid to become an action star. Overlooking a character like Johnny Cage might seem like a bizarre decision, but it could be that he’s simply been given a new Avatar in Mortal Kombat as Cole Young.
One additional possibility is that the film could be setting Cole up as the successor to Scorpion. The aforementioned conflict between Scorpion and Sub-Zero will clearly be a major element of Mortal Kombat, so much so that the movie reportedly kicks off with a battle between Bi-Han and Hanzo Hasashi in feudal Japan. The trailer also heavily sells their enmity as a big sub-plot of the film, while there’s such a depth of history between Scorpion and Sub-Zero that it could provide the basis of its own spin-off story. The makers of Mortal Kombat might hope to keep their options open on reviving that conflict in the future, and Cole could help make that possible.
Cole’s dragon birthmark already shows that there’s more to him than meets the eye, and the vision he sees of Scorpion in the trailer could signal a direct link between the two like the one Cole holds with Sub-Zero. Theoretically, Scorpion could die in the tournament in his battle royale against Sub-Zero, with Cole’s birthmark designating him as Scorpion’s successor, which could also explain Sub-Zero’s determination to locate the man connected to his sworn enemy. After his death in 1995’s Mortal Kombat, Scorpion was similarly brought back in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (not to compare the superb-looking reboot to that abomination), and the new Mortal Kombat could be quietly establishing a subtle but personal relationship between Cole and Scorpion, which could allow the former to take on his true identity after the his predecessor’s demise in the tournament.
The last significant possibility is that Mortal Kombat isn’t trying to pull the wool over the eyes of its audience, and Cole Young really is a completely new protagonist specifically for the reboot. This might seem like a counter-intuitive approach, especially with Cole occupying a centrality to the story that would normally be expected for Liu Kang. However, throwing an unanticipated curveball like this could be to the reboot’s advantage.
As a new character with no prior history in the franchise, Cole could show a perspective on the basic Mortal Kombat premise that has never seen before. By having Cole gradually discover the truth behind his birthmark and the underlying connection to the tournament that he never knew he had before, Mortal Kombat could tell a wildly different story that sets it apart from every other adaptation of the games (Liu Kang actor Ludi Lin has previously described the film as a universe-builder). This approach would also have the added benefit of a new breakout character gaining his introduction in the most hard-R Mortal Kombat movie imaginable, making his subsequent introduction into future installments of the games not only (more) inevitable, but the biggest marketing hook they could have.
Theories will surely continue to run rampant about what Cole Young’s true identity could be ahead of the reboot’s release, along with whether Cole being a disguised character from the games is simply what the makers of the film want viewers to think. Speculation aside, Cole being the new protagonist is already looking like the smartest move the reboot has made. Audiences clearly cannot wait to see Cole in action in the tournament with many holding their excitement at bay by pouring over who he might be ahead of the release of Mortal Kombat. Best of all, if Cole is simply the brand new character he’s been presented as, well, then it’s only a matter of time before gamers will have a chance to put his signature moves and fatalities to work in Mortal Kombat 12.