Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mortal Kombat Legacy (2011 - 2013) Web Series review. 9 Episodes Season1, 10 Episodes season 2

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: Many brutally choreographed fights, decent special effects in season one, fresh interpretation of an established mythos, feature film-like quality (season one)

The Bad: indecisive directing style that rips off other more established directors, overly dark lighting, cheap special effects in season 2, some fights seem overly choreographed, choppy editing, extreme close ups, inconsistent continuity, recasting of most of the actors between seasons.

3D Readiness: None


The famous ultra-violent video game franchise gets a "Dark Knight" styled make-over. This is Mortal Kombat revised. Mortal Kombat yet another live action iteration of the fantasy fighting game. Originally conceived to be realistic remake which cleverly replacing the more out-of-this-world concepts with gritty real world explanations, MORTAL KOMBAT LEGACY drops that ball right into its second episode where we have mercenaries firing plasma weapons.

Two episodes later, we are right back in familiar fantasy territory of other realms, monsters and magic. This is Mortal Kombat rehashed, Mortal Kombat repeated with merely cosmetic changes, and Mortal Kombat recast in such a haphazard way between its two seasons.

This web series, originally debuting on the Machinima youtube channel, consists of 6 story arcs over 9 episodes for season one. Season two comprises an ongoing story arc of the tournament plus three origin stories told in flashbacks for a total of 10 episodes. Each episode is so distinct in tone, style and entertainment value that they are almost like mini-movies unto themselves.

Just two things that permeate the both seasons seems to be director Kevin Tancheroen’s indecisive directing style and the annoying music. Tancharoen seems to be copying the style of other directors like Zack Snyder’s slow motion speed ramping, Neveldine and Tylor’s high speed shaky cam digital photography, Paul Greengrass’s hyper fast cuts. All these stylistic touches seem thrown in at random and overdone in many instances.
For ease of reading, I will have short reviews for each arc.


The first two episodes of season one go into the back story of Sonya Blade, Jax and crime boss Kano presented in a familiar “Cops and Crime boss” setting. Sonya is taken prisoner and Jax leads a special forces team to take down Kano’s gang. This is a strong start, with a look not unlike modern Hollywood action movies and a realistic gritty tone.
The fights are brutal and bloody, even if they do seem a bit too unrehearsed. The only downside would be director Kevin Tancheroen’s insistence of copying Zack Snyder’s slow motion ramping.

Next we get the tale of washed up action star Johnny Cage trying to pitch his latest production. Again, realistic and right in place in our real world, done very creatively in the form of a TV documentary. The constant jitter-cam is a nice touch to convey the feel of a reality show. Generally, this is a smart, tongue-in-cheek jibe at the action film industry with a good dose of humour tinged with a sense of pity for poor Mr Cage.

Now after that, in comes some hokey fantasy. Kitanna and Mileena: a tale of sibling rivalry and teenage identity set among the CGI mountains of Edeina and the dark Canadian-looking woods of Outworld?
Our first dud of season one, the Kitanna / Mileena arc spans two episodes and has the look and production design of those 1990s fantasy TV series such as HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS or XENA only filmed in digital. More like a live reading of a fairy tale than an actual episode, most of the tale is told through beautifully drawn but badly animated flash animation.

Its weak story is further marred by choppy action, one too many quick cuts and cheap special effects. The half of the second episode in this arc is a flashback to events in the preceding episode, making the actual runtime of content a lot shorter.

Thankfully the subsequent episodes return to the more realistic setting and more ambiguous fantasy. Take Raiden for instance. How would people, realistically in today’s world, react to some dude claiming to be a thunder god? Simple, they’d commit him to the insane asylum!

Where this episode lacks in action, it makes up for in its fresh and unexpected approach to an established story paralleling an almost christ-like journey for its protagonist.


The highlights of the season are of course Scorpion Vs Sub-Zero arc and the final episode about the Lin Kuei Cyborgs. Scorpion’s backstory and ensuing vendetta against ninja leader Sub Zero is explained via a beautifully shot period piece, seemingly set in feudal Japan.

Characters speak Japanese, authentic asian actors play the roles, even the costumes seem true to the feudal period. Therein lies a tragic tale about one good man betrayed and robbed of everything he held dear.

The most eagerly awaited and spectacularly choreographed fight in the entire season…..and our dear director had to go overboard with the erratic camerawork, quick cuts and ripping off more established directors styles like Paul Greengrass and Neveldine ad Tylor. To top it off, we get some really out of place dubstep music accompanying the fights.


Lastly, the Lin Kuei cyborg segment. This is real eye candy here, featuring cutting edge CGI and motion capture work, creating one of the more brutal bouts in the series. Movie fans will see hints of Universal Soldier and Robocop. Again, Kevin Tancheroen fails to find his own style and instead rips off other directors.


So after a generally enjoyable season one, disregarding some missteps here and there, season two comes around. Season two showcases a little more backstory of other characters like Kung Lao and Liu Kang, as well as finally showing the start of the titular Mortal Kombat Tournament.
It may have well been a completely new show altogether as only a couple of returning faces and story elements bear a resemblance to season one.

More than half of the roles have been recast with new actors, there are many continuity inconsistencies, the special effects look cheaper, and so do the costumes. The tone and style is more consistent now, hence making it easy to review the season as a whole. Alas, its consistency is in its mediocre presentation and general step down from the quality of season one.

For an example of cheapskate costumes and inconsistencies just compare the stories of Scorpion and Sub Zero across the seasons. Season one was simple yet effective, giving a production design of outfits that may have been plausible during feudal Japan.

Season 2 reveals that our feudal japan period piece actually takes place in modern day; a modern day where Japan never outgrew its swords, samurais and shoguns and everyone suddenly speaks American English! Season 2 also downgraded the ninja outfits from realistically plausible to ripoff Power Rangers and pyjamas.
Lacklustre fights which lack the gritty brutality of the previous season lead up to one disappointing conclusion that is all build up without any payoff.

Running concurrently with the tournament is the cliche ridden back stories of blind Samurai Kenshi and the brother Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Ripped from the pages of some manga, Kenshi (played by Power Rangers actor Daniel Southworth) flashes back to his younger days as he embarks on a quest to steal a mystical sword from an evil demon known as Ermac.

A close shave with death left Kenshi blind and this tournament is his last chance to destroy the demon who robbed him of his eyes. In this story, Ermac is a joke. He looks like some guy in a Halloween costume and face paint.

Liu Kang and Kung Lao is a typical “Cain and Able” tale. Kung Lao is the virtuous goody two shoes played by the guy who plays Iron Chef America’s Chairman and Double Dragon’s Jimmy Lee.

Liu Kang is the angst ridden, bad tempered hoodlum who shoots poorly rendered fire effects from his hands played by Brian “Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift King” Tee.

Their story goes nowhere, lost amidst the need to move the tournament forward. Possibly one highlight of season two was re-casting Johnny Rico aka Casper Van Dien, a washed up action star, as Johnny Cage the washed up action star.

With season three set to veer off into adapting characters and concepts from the recent Mortal Kombat X video game, MORTAL KOMBAT LEGACY’s first two seasons ends off on a low note. The episodes of Sonya/Jax/Kano, Johnny Cage, Raiden, Scorpion/Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei Cyborgs Cyrax and Sektor stand as true gems. Featuring feature film-like production quality and design, brutal fight choreography, as well as cleverly reinterpreting the established mythos in a fresh manner. Downer episodes include the Kitanna/Mileena and most of season two (except perhaps the Kenshi Vs Ermac episodes).

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B
Story: B+
Acting: C+
Characters: B+
Music: D
Replay value: C-
"Brains": D+