Mortal Kombat: Legacy (2011) Review

"Mortal Kombat: Legacy" American Poster

"Mortal Kombat: Legacy" American Poster

Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Writer: Kevin Tancharoen, Todd Helbing, Aaron Helbing
Cast: Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan, Darren Shahlavi, Matt Mullins, Sam Tjhia, Jolene Tran, Ryan Robbins, Ian Anthony Dale, Kevan Ohtsji, Shane Warren Jones, Peter Shinkoda
Running Time: 100 min.

By HKFanatic

Back in 2010, a director named Kevin Tancharoen appeared out of nowhere with a short film titled “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.” The film was a ‘proof of concept’ for Kevin’s vision of a Mortal Kombat relaunch, a way to gauge fan enthusiasm and see if Warner Brothers would greenlight a new movie to be helmed by Tancharoen. Starring martial arts heavies Michael Jai White (“Spawn”) and Matt Mullins (“Blood and Bone“), the short offered a different take on the Mortal Kombat franchise; jettisoning most of its more outlandish fantasy elements for a gritty real world flavor tinged with some mysticism. The project accomplished at least one of its goals: fan interest went through the roof. Warner Brothers didn’t say “yes” to a full-length movie based off the strength of the 8 minute video, which quickly went viral on YouTube, but they did allow Tancharoen to do a web series.

Now that the web series has run its course, all nine episodes of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” are collected on a single disc blu-ray and DVD. Each episode takes a look at a particular character in the Mortal Kombat universe and typically explains their reasoning or motivation for partaking in an upcoming martial arts tournament. No previous knowledge of Mortal Kombat is necessary; this series ignores Paul W.S. Anderson’s 90’s guilty pleasure flick and its atrocious sequel. Since the game mythology itself has become increasingly convoluted and difficult to make sense of after nine entries, Tachnaroen wisely offers up a “Batman Begins”-style reboot of the entire franchise. “Legacy” starts over from scratch and presents the characters in a new, generally more realistic light.

“Legacy” is something of a dream project for action fans as Tachnaroen was able to bring together ace fight choreographer Larnell Stovall (“Undisputed 3,” “Bunraku“) with a host of top Western martial arts talent. Michael Jai White and Matt Mullins are back but this time so are Darren Shahlavi (the evil British boxer from “Ip Man 2“) and Ian Anthony Dale (Kazuya Mishima in the “Tekken” movie). Stovall’s choreography is hard-hitting and exciting, taking inspiration from the arcade game without being a slave to the characters’ move sets. The first two episodes are stand outs, especially when Stovall combines Michael Jai White’s hard-hitting combat skills with some bloody gunplay. Seeing White square off against Shahlavi, who has been an excellent bad guy since his days in Yuen Woo-Ping’s “Tai Chi II” and the Gary Daniels flick “Bloodmoon,” was one of my main interests in the project and their battle does not disappoint.

If anything, these first two Michael Jai White-filled episodes are so action-packed and exciting that they set the bar too high for the series; later episodes have their share of fighting but are far more plot-centric and focused on setting up Tachnaroen and his writing team’s interpretation of the Mortal Kombat universe. There are some definite highlights, though: Matt Mullins seems to relish the chance to play the cocky pretty boy Johnny Cage, who is portrayed as something like a parody of Jean Claude Van Damme during his ego-fueled 90’s era. I only wish they would have shown clips from Cage’s fictional movies rather than focusing on his botched attempts at a reality TV show since it doesn’t play out as humorously as it could have. I did appreciate the in-jokes about Johnny Cage’s Power Ranger past; a fun reference for fans seeing as how Matt Mullins starred in the TV show “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight,” a Power Rangers-esque show.

Another highlight is the episode that focuses on Raiden, the God of Thunder, who is brilliantly brought to life by actor Ryan Robbins. This episode seems to crystallize Tancharoen’s unique approach to the Mortal Kombat series: just enough brutal realism tempered by dark fantasy. The final episode, focusing on the cyborg characters Cyrax and Sector, features Stovall’s most outlandish choreography yet as the motion-captured robots pummel each other like a bunch of crazed Iron Men in all their CG glory.

If this collection has any flaws, it’s that “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” leaves you wanting more. Most of the major plot threads are left unresolved; these episodes get the characters into position for the Mortal Kombat tournament but don’t actually delve into it. This is, essentially, a 104 minute teaser for a potential MK movie – I just hope that Tacnareon gets to make it and with this cast. All of the story set-up means that a few episodes fall flat, in particular the two-partner about Katana and Mileena, which has an almost constant voice-over track providing exposition. Quibbles aside, the series does a great job of re-introducing popular characters to a fresh audience, establishing their conflicts, and making the viewer hungry for more.

If you’ve only seen “Legacy” in a tiny box on YouTube, the blu-ray should be something of a revelation. On the big screen, detail is sharp and you notice just how much care when into lighting this series. It doesn’t look like a “web TV show” at all, with the production values outshining many prime time shows. Although Kevin Tancharoen’s previous credits include the glitzy remake of “Fame,” you get the sense that he’s always wanted to play in a universe as dark and bloody as Mortal Kombat. The blu-ray has some solid Special Features too, including an excellent behind-the-scenes look at Larnell Stovall’s fight choreography. Overall, this is a worthwhile purchase for fans of the Mortal Kombat license. It may be over too soon, with these nine short-ish episodes hopefully serving as a prelude to a film to come, but if you love your Outworld and your Fatalities you’d be hard pressed to find a more serious and faithful adaptation of Mortal Kombat.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10

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