Mortal Kombat Legacy: Web Series Review

July 26th, 2011 -

Director Kevin Tancharoen has created an 9 part web series based on the Mortal Kombat Franchise. Catch yourself up to speed with the link below, before reading the rest of this article.

Let me preface this with a little back story of myself, so that you can better understand where I’m coming from on the subject. I grew up with Mortal Kombat; I remember its inception. I watched as the lore grew larger and the franchise grew worse. I watched the original MK movies while new when I was a kid, and I have watched them more recently to laugh at the epic amounts of cheesy dialog in them. I have even gone back and checked out the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” based on the MK series. Quick review of that by the way: Luke Perry is the voice of Sub Zero… I’ve already said too much…

Clearly I’m a fan of this universe; however, I have also grown up quite a bit since then. I appreciate more mature subject matters than “gore” and “half naked video game girls”. My taste in movies has grown as well, and I can now see when something was tarnished by bad acting or bad directing. In essence, I’m a great audience for this web series, I can appreciate the nostalgia of the game, but at the same time also appreciate the directors fresh take and modern style on the franchise. So this should be the part where I tell you how amazing it is, right?

Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Legacy suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Originally, the trailer/teaser that was released a year ago was intended to be a pitch for a new Mortal Kombat movie. On top of that, it was also a completely original take on the mythology. The idea in the teaser was that everything we know about MK was taking place in a real world setting without magic, ninjas, robots and so forth. Pretty much like every one’s approach to IP’s these days thanks to Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, but I digress.

That idea (while not entirely original) would have been interesting. However, when director Kevin Tancharoen got the green light to direct a 9 episode web series, he pretty much threw that out the window. Instead what we got was a fragmented MK universe that follows no canon to the games, the movies, the books, or even itself. That last one is really the most important of them all. How can you create a 9 episode “series” and not follow any canon whatsoever? It’s one thing to create a new canon not based on the games, movies, or books, but this “series” takes place in Kevin’s original gritty “real” MK, 1-3 of the games, parts of the movie series, and some parts that are unexplainable. You have to ask yourself, “what is he trying to achieve with this opportunity he has been given?”

Based on the original story of how the teaser got leaked, one would think that this is his demonstration that he has the capabilities to handle directing a full feature film about Mortal Kombat. If those were his intentions, to put it bluntly, he failed. If you have ten minutes to tell a story, shouldn’t you try and get the most out of  each minute? During each episode I found myself just kind of waiting to see why “such-and-such” is happening, or what’s going on. I know at this point you’re trying to tell me that he is trying to elicit suspense, but I don’t think you’re understanding me. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat; I was trying to process and figure out what is going on. In each episode there is a lot of filler that you would find in a full movie, which is fine in a 2 hour film. Filler gives you a break from the action, plot and story. It honestly feels like a lot of these episodes could be summarized into about a minute or two. The funny part is that at the beginning of his two part episodes, he does just that. Then you realize that you could have just watched part 2 to get the whole experience.

Beside the blank space in each episode, another point where this series was an opportunity missed was the casting, or should I say the use of the casting for a small web series based off a video game. The casting drew some pretty big names, and at times it saved the experience. However, you can clearly tell in some of the episodes the actor or actress was reaching for content due to poor directing and terrible script writing. Take the Raiden episode for example. Raiden is a huge character in this franchise, and he has tons of well developed character to go off of and really build upon his personality. Yet we are treated to an unintelligent, arrogant, hostile Raiden, who speaks about 2 sentences worth of dialog for his entire episode. It seems like such a waste. He could have done so much with that character, yet in the middle of the series he just up and decides to go back to his original idea of a gritty, real Mortal Kombat. This would have been fine if the series had followed some kind of story and Raiden came back in the end, but he didn’t. He just paints a very pathetic picture of one of the most powerful characters in this lore.

While some of the CGI was cool, and some of the fan service was there, it’s little things like Quan Chi’s (shivering?) Joker like personality and Shang Tsung speaking English (in an all Japanese speaking episode) that really show the amateur nature of this director. It was an interesting web series, and not all of it was bad… but, honestly? If I was Warner Brothers and I was about to spend millions of dollars on a full feature film, I would want to invest in something that non-fans of Mortal Kombat would want to go see. You see, fans of any IP will go see a movie based off their favorite game, book, or play even if Uwe Bowl directed it. Its the people like Roger Ebert that will rip it apart and show it for the terrible video game movie that it is, thus hurting your overall bottom line on ticket sales. The lack of commitment to one idea is what ruins these movies – if he directed a movie and it was like his teaser? It would probably do great, but he has shown that he will cave to the fans too easily, and we have seen where that gets us. (ie. Spiderman 3)

Movie aside, even as a web series it fails to really capture an audience outside of the Mortal Kombat fans, or just people looking to see blood and fighting. All in all, I would love to hear Kevin Tancharoen’s explanation of why he chose to fragment this into short videos that don’t follow any formula. Why he strayed away from his original idea of a Mortal Kombat world without magic, and what he was trying to achieve with this. Had this been a canon web series based in a gritty real world Mortal Kombat, where each week the story progressed a little further, my impressions would be completely different. While I personally would not have chosen that style, I would have respected his take on the Mortal Kombat franchise, and it would have kept me wanting to come back for more each episode. Rather than coming back to it each week, hoping to make sense of the previous episodes…

Let me close with this: it’s almost a given that if you’re reading this, you have seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. You saw how Nolan created a world, a canon, which doesn’t necessarily follow the comics or the other movies, but it follows his own. Now imagine when you go to see The Dark Knight Returns, he casts Seth Rogan as the Riddler, he brings back the neon thugs, and he introduces a red, green and yellow robin played by Zack Effron. You would be like “uh… wtf is going on here?” That’s how I felt each week – there seems to be no clear goal for this series. If this was his way of proving that he can handle directing a full feature film based on Mortal Kombat, in my opinion, he failed. If this was supposed to be a series canon within itself? That would have been interesting, but it’s not. If each episode was supposed to be a separate tech demonstration, I guess I could understand that, but it wasn’t. This just seemed like a cluster fuck of Mortal Kombat ideas plucked from random forum posts, poorly directed and terribly scripted. While some fun was had with this series, it was ultimately an opportunity missed. ~

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