Liu Kang and Raiden always had a special relationship that expressed itself in different ways. Mortal Kombat 11 showed that off beautifully with its poignant timeline-spanning montage and subsequent fusion. Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms changes that dynamic a bit by removing the rivalry and focusing solely on the positive aspects of the father-son relationship that have been just under the franchise’s bruised and blood-drenched skin. And that was by design.
However, it’s impossible to look at Raiden and Liu Kang in this film without examining each of them individually. Jeremy Adams, the screenwriter for both animated movies, spoke about this when trying to delve deeper into Raiden. While Liu Kang and Raiden’s bond is there in typical fashion in Scorpion’s Revenge, Adams wanted to stop and focus more on the God of Thunder. It is, ostensibly, quite odd for a being to dedicate thousands of years of their life defending Earthrealm. The games haven’t looked into this aspect as heavily, leaving room for Adams to, like a bolt of lightning, strike forcefully.
“I think it was really important that this movie in particular really delves into the relationship between Raiden and Liu Kang in a very intense way as father and son,” he said. “This was the thing that really struck me as I was writing and I had a lot of exploring who Raiden was and why he was protecting Earthrealm. What’s his deal?”
Dave B. Mitchell, Raiden’s voice actor in these films, was able to expand upon that notion, which makes sense for the person who had to live the lines Adams wrote. Mitchell, a fan of the games since the very beginning and a Sektor stan, said that he thinks this film does the best job of any Mortal Kombat media at looking into Raiden’s soul and humanizing the godly being by showing his internal struggles.
“With Raiden, I like the fact that he still has that Zen quality and that godhood, but the way they have me portraying him in this, you get to feel some of the weight that he’s been carrying for millennia,” he said. “You get to feel how some of that has weighed on him and, particularly, when we get to explore a different side of him than we’ve seen before as he relates to the different characters, the tournament, and Shao Kahn.”
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The “weight” Mitchell speaks of is evident in Battle of the Realms. Raiden has been fighting in this Mortal Kombat tournament for so damn long. Earthrealm even won the last tournament, which should have resulted in a thousand years of safety, but here he is yet again having to fight with everything on the line; a tiresome, never-ending battle goes on.
It’s evident when Raiden quickly takes Shao Kahn’s offer to petition the Elder Gods for another Mortal Kombat tournament in order for the bloodshed to end, sacrificing his godhood to further commit himself to cease the fighting. Mitchell explained how this all made Raiden tired enough to where it becomes visibly apparent — the former god even talks about looking forward to his first ever night of sleep — but not too tired to “shirk his responsibilities.”
“Raiden has a very personal stake this time and he commits himself to the safety of Earthrealm,” he said. “You can see that this has been his mission: to defend Earthrealm. You get to see the toll that has taken on him over time. It’s a never-ending battle for him. Because of some of the choices and sacrifices that he makes in this, it’s one of the first times we see some of the internal struggles with him and realize that for all of his calm and serene veneer that he puts out to everyone else, there’s a weight there. And it has taken a toll on him and he’s not going to give up, but he’s definitely been affected by this.”
The weariness gives the film the opportunity to inject Liu Kang’s arc with more meaning. The Shaolin monk was not riding high at the end of the first film where he only won the tournament through Scorpion’s intentional forfeit. That “failure” resonated with him, as evidenced by his short exchange with Raiden right before the credits. This context sets Liu Kang up to a greater ascension in Battle of the Realms, something Raiden plays a pivotal role in realizing.
But, sadly, this comes at a heavy cost as the now-mortal Raiden dies by Shao Kahn’s hand in a particularly gruesome battle. When prompted for his last words, Raiden gets cut off and it’s heavily implied that he was about to say that he loved Liu Kang. Adams essentially filled in the rest of Raiden’s final sentence.
“We saw before he died, he’s expressing his love for Liu Kang,” said Adams. “Like he’s his chosen one. And he trusts him so much that he’s willing to die over it. I think it’s pretty powerful. It really gave me a hook for Raiden as a character and a hook for Liu Kang as a character.”
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Adams also spoke about how he looked at Raiden as a father that wanted to see his adopted son succeed and that Liu Kang wasn’t going to ascend without that sacrifice. Having him realize his destiny of becoming Earthrealm’s defender lifted the aforementioned weight off his shoulders and having Liu Kang achieve greatness and fill that role satisfied his parental instincts. This act fulfills Raiden in two different ways. Mitchell, calling Liu Kang an “avatar for the bigger picture” in Raiden’s eyes because of his innate purity, tied the weariness and fatherhood themes together while also relating them to Liu Kang.
“It shows the depths of Raiden’s commitment that he was literally willing to give up godhood and sacrifice his life for not only Earthrealm, but also for Liu Kang,” he said. “We’ve seen Liu Kang wrestle with doubts throughout the whole history of MK in the lore, particularly as we’ve explored the depth of characters in the later games. I think whatever doubts may have had, it may have crystallized his understanding and his commitment to, ‘This is who I am. This is my responsibility. This is what I am here to do. And I cannot, under any circumstances, not fulfill my destiny.’”
Performing a Fatality on Raiden (although Adams was quick to note that “anybody can come back at any time”) wasn’t a late choice either. Producer Rick Morales said the team came to it early, saying that it “just made sense” for progressing Liu Kang’s character.
“That was one of the earliest decisions that we made as far as who we wanted to kill off in this film,” he said. “For Mortal Kombat, I think you need those deaths that are maybe unexpected but anyone is fair game. In the games, anyone can die. I want the feeling in these movies that you might think someone is safe, but not necessarily.”
A few of these deaths have fundamentally shaped Liu Kang. His parents get brutalized in the beginning of the film and his pal Kung Lao gets ripped in half like junk mail. All of this happens on top of seeing his father figure get his neck snapped. Adams said he thinks that “it took the trauma for him” to “ be able to step outside on his own.” Meanwhile Raiden, in the movie, says that Liu Kang never blames anyone for his trauma, proving the innocence of his soul; the innocence that showed why he was meant to play a greater role.
It’s a harsh way to live, but Jordan Rodrigues, who portrays Liu Kang in the film, relayed a similar sentiment. He stated that Liu Kang’s patience paid off and the trauma only added “fuel to the fire to Liu Kang’s burning heart.”
“Once he leveled up to god status, everything became clear and all-knowing,” said Rodrigues. “And I think when you reach that etherealness, if that’s a word, everything becomes calm and one. I had to portray that in my acting. I think it’s really cool to see him become the chosen one.”
Mortal Kombat films often have trouble keeping track of all of its fighters and many of them have cliché or shallow arcs, if any at all. Admittedly, Battle of the Realms has that same issue, too, as some of the biggest faces in the series have either rushed personal stories or none at all. But Battle of the Realms did at least focus on two of its marquee kombatants, Liu Kang and Raiden. Both grew as a pair in a way that strengthened their resolve as individuals, adding more life to characters in a series so obsessed with killing and death.