Flawless Victory or Troubled Fatality? Mortal Kombat Legacy Review
Just a little more than a year ago, Mortal Kombat Rebirth hit the web, and fanboys and nonfanboys alike went absolutely insane about it. Viewers debated furiously whether Director Kevin Tancharoen had made a masterpiece out of his gritty, realistic remake of the game series, or whether this was just another silly youtube fan film that slapped on a major franchise name to get views. With Episode 9 of the resulting Mortal Kombat Legacy series released recently, an important question arises: did Tancharoen’s webseries succeed? Or is this yet another failed MK project?
When Mortal Kombat Rebirth came out, I was one of the many fans to support it, and get a lot of flack from my fellow game nerds. And before you judge me, let me say that I am a true Mortal Kombat fan: I’ve played just about the entire series, starting on the Gameboy and Sega Genesis versions of the first game, and last playing a bit of the newest Nether Realm Studios (once Midway Studios) reboot. I’ve watched the first movie (probably one of the best video game movies ever adapted for Hollywood), the incredibly lackluster sequel, the cartoon series, and the live-action series (yes, oh yes, there was a live-action series). I actually understand most of the continuity, even when it became muddled and unnecessarily complex. And, with more than 60 characters under its belt, Mortal Kombat has a lot to work with.
So when I saw Rebirth, you have to understand how excited I felt. Yes, they were stripping down almost all of the fantastical aspects of Mortal Kombat– Outworld, magic, the creatures and races; all of that was left behind in lieu of a simple storyline. This is what grabbed my attention more than anything– the sheer, utter simplicity.
Instead of the very convoluted background story that newcomers would never understand, Tancharoen decided on this premise: a special forces unit in a crime-stricken city hires a voluntarily imprisoned ex-assassin to enter an underground tournament full of serial killers and mercenaries to get at its founder, funder, and leader, Shang Tsung.
Ok, take a breath. Not bad, right?
The film was handled very well, included fan favorite actors like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan, and included some great action. Was it disturbing to see Reptile as a cannibal with a skin condition eating someone’s face? Yes. Was it disturbing to see Baraka as a doctor who had mutilated himself into a blade-weilding weirdo? Certainly. But in a franchise where gore-filled finishing moves is one of its key features, it gave us a different angle on the MK series.
For once, Mortal Kombat went from slasher flick to psychological horror. We were getting the best of both worlds, not an excuse for torture porn. And, once you get your eyes on the anti-hero of the proposed film, and you see a freeze frame of his rival (displayed for a quick second in the short), you’d also see that there is an element of the paranormal in there, too.
Despite an uproar from purists, huge fan support helped give the relatively unknown director some notoriety, and Warner Brothers caught wind of him. Although they liked his approach, meeting with series co-creator Ed Boon and discussing the upcoming newest iteration of the game series made Warner Brother ask Tancharoen to keep the series closer to its roots. What we got from it is Legacy: an anthology series based on six stories–each following various Mortal Kombat characters–and their motivations for going into the tenth MK tournament, as featured in the first game.
After watching the entire series, it’s hard to tell whether it is a total flop or something with potential. It’s a mixed bag of great and not-so great, going from excellent to excrutiating from episode to episode. There were a great amount of fan-favorite characters included, from Jax to Subzero, and Mileena to Sektor, but the execution seemed to be the main problem.
Take Johnny Cage, for example. In his episode they explored his background, but it seemed like they couldn’t get his details straight. He was referred to as one of the greatest action movies stars of his time in one part, and then later revealed to have never risen higher than the Power Rangers role he had as a teenager. While the premise was good, the delivery gave us a series of E! Entertainment-like interviews and meaningless fight scenes, followed with an ending that featured a less than thrilling Shang Tsung.
Or take the two-part Mileena and Kitana story. While hitting every odd piece of their backstory, it was Tancharoen’s adherence to the game’s continuity that made this a difficult story to follow without thinking of an 80′s sci-fantasy flick or an Uwe Boll movie. Throw in an extensive use of motion comics sequences for simple scenes (like characters walking down a hall… seriously) and it’s not hard to imagine that the director had a difficult time balancing the limited budget for this effects-heavy origin story.
Also, the question of creative control seemed to have come up; directly after the Mileena and Kitana episode, Tancharoen opened his Raiden story letting fans know he was making this episode his way, with how he envisioned blending in gritty realism and the supernatural. What you get is a fairly well directed MK version of Thor that works far better than the previous entry of the web-series.
The best was saved for last, though, with both the Scorpion & Subzero episodes and the Cyrax & Sektor episode. The former maintained a superior story-telling aspect, giving us the heart and soul of what makes certain characters like Scorpion stick out among fans. The latter gave us great CGI action sequences coupled with the true horror of some of the individuals in the MK universe. Besides the oddity of Scorpion & Subzero’s story being made in a fuedal Japan setting and then the Cyrax & Sektor story happening entirely in a hyper-futuristic military lab (again showing how insane the backstory is in the MK series), the episodes came out with enough creative power to show how good Tancharoen
can be at his craft.
Tancharoen’s intention in the beginning was to make his trailer into a movie: Warner Brothers, taking the safe bet, decided to make it into a web-series. At this point, I can’t say that decision was ill-conceived. While Tancharoen has shown us some cool takes on popular MK characters, Mortal Kombat Legacy proves to us that the franchise has a ways to go before it can pull itself together properly for a modern feature film.
Tancharoen has said in interviews that he has a very detailed treatment that adheres to the storyline (of the first game or the entire franchise, I’m not sure). This scares me, because after seeing his attempts to do this under Nether Realm’s insistence, I’m not quite sure what quality of film we’ll get. I think for now it’s safer for Warner Brothers to give his web-series a second season, which he has already decided will follow the events of the Tournament in the first game.
I do believe Tancharoen has potential, and should be given a second shot, if to at least prove whether he, Nether Realm, and Warner Brothers can come together to create a story that isn’t riddled with ridiculous plot holes and budget restraints. Hopefully, it won’t just be a painful disaster fans will have to watch unfold.
I give this first season 7.5 uppercuts out of 10.