Some time ago, Kevin Tancharoen wowed video game fans with his short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, a gritty new take on the Mortal Kombat universe that has spawned countless video games, two terrible movies, and one even worse television series. It’s an undying franchise, filled with a massive cast of characters, a ridiculously lengthy history and a dense, complicated, and often silly universe. Tancharoen had hoped to parlay his short film into a feature length project, but it never quite got off the ground. He did, however, gather together enough financing to create a nine-episode web series, and thus, Mortal Kombat: Legacy was born, and released via Machinima.com’s Youtube page. Here’s the original short:
The results are mixed, though overall positive. The worst one can say is that the series never really lived up to the short film, which is a shame. It took a slightly different direction, and mixed live-action, animation and cgi into a crazy melting pot of bloody martial arts mayhem that sometimes worked, and sometimes missed completely. The actors assembled were a mixed bag — a handful of relatively well known actors (Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan) combined with more unknown players, creating varying results in terms of performances. The fighting was excellent, to be sure, but some of the episodes felt like wasted opportunities — filler episodes that never really grabbed the viewer. It was still an engaging series, and I enjoyed seeing the direction Tancharoen took the characters. Honestly, Resident Evil aside, it’s probably the best video game adaptation you’re likely to see.
The stories take place across time and space, telling short origin stories of some of the major characters in the Mortal Kombat universe, as they come to be a part of the first Kombat tournament. It stripped down the characters substantially, simplifying their labyrinthine backstories, or creating brand new ones — mostly for the better. Instead of being faced with a lengthy, complicated storyline, it rather gave each character a more focused origin story, something that served the medium quite well. Coupled with strong effects, excellent costume design, clever sets and top notch fight choreography, the series hit more than it missed.
To make things easier, I’ll just embed them all for you and run through them briefly:
The first episode, featuring Michael Jai White as MajorJackson “Jax” Briggs and Jeri Ryan as Sonya Blade as they go up against arms dealer Kano, featured far more gunplay and generic action movie settings than actual hand-to-hand combat, but it also probably had some of the better acting of the episodes — no doubt due to the presence of more practiced actors. The big battle featured Jax and Kano, and for the most part it felt like it wasted White’s impressive martial artistry. That said, Ryan managed to acquit herself quite well, and comes off as quite the badass.
Episode 3, featuring Matt Mullins as Johnny Cage, was one of the weaker entries, featuring little real fighting and an unexciting backstory (though Cage was never one of my favorites in the games, either). Telling the story of a Hollywood action hero whose star has begun to dull, it was filmed in part as an Access: Hollywood-style fluff piece, and it simply never found a firm foothold. It did feature him doing the splits and cockpunching someone though, so it’s not a total loss.
Episodes 4 and 5 told the stories of half-sisters Kitana and Mileena — one born of a far-off king and queen, one cloned by the conquering Outworld emporer, Shao Kahn. Told partly through animation and partly through live-action, it also featured a strange, almost hypnotic voice over that told the tales of the two sisters. It featured some solid fight scenes, particularly those between the two actresses, Samantha Tjhia and Jolene Tran — not to mention some creepy-ass special effects to show the inner monster of Mileena.
Episode 6, “Raiden,” featured one of the series’ favorite characters in an interesting new twist. In it, Raiden is found outside a mental institution, proclaiming himself to be a god. It’s a curious development and made for one of the most intriguing episodes, with Ryan Robbins giving a solid performance as Raiden. It also featured perhaps my favorite ending of the series.
Episodes 7 and 8 featured the rivalry of the most famous members of the Mortal Kombat universe, Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Told within the context of feudal Japan, it removed much of the mysticism surrounding the characters (though not all — Sub-Zero still has some pretty freakish powers), and instead made them leaders of warring clans. It’s a pair of excellent episodes, with Scorpion (Ian Anthony Dale) and Sub-Zero (Kevan Ohtsji) acquitting themselves nicely as a pair of steely-eyed warriors hell-bent on each other’s destruction. That said, it’s also an unfortunate departure from the Rebirth short film, which had its own unique take on the characters. The conclusion of episode 8 showed Sub-Zero to be something else entirely, something definitely not of this world, and made me desperate to see more.
The final episode, “Cyrax and Sektor,” was also a solid one. Taking place once again in the “real” world (that is to say, a version of modern Earth), it featured two assassins for the mysterious Lin Kuei clan, auditioning to become technologically superior cybernetic warriors. The opening fight scene is one of the best of the show, and the gruesome transformation scenes are bizarre and uncomfortable. As with each of the preceding episodes, it features some outstanding costume design, with their cyborg costumes appearing to be technologically intimidating, while still relatively practical.
In the end, Mortal Kombat: Legacy felt more like a tease than a full-blown series. With each episode being only 10 minutes or so long, I felt like I was never really able to dig into the meat of the characters or their stories. Hopefully, Tancharoen can get another season together and further this reinvigorated universe, and complete this evolution of the Mortal Kombat universe into a living, breathing beast that does the series proud.