Mortal Kombat: Legacy (2011) – Directed by Ken Tancharoen – Starring Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan, Lateef Crowder, Darren Shahlavi, Tahmoh Penikett, Matt Mullins, Sam Tjhia, Jolene Tran, Ryan Robbins, Ian Anthony Dale, Kevan Ohtsji, Shane Warren Jones, Peter Shinkoda, Kirby Morrow, Erica Cerra, and Tracy Spiridakos.
Conceived by Ken Tancharoen, MORTAL KOMBAT: REBIRTH is an 8-minute short produced in the hopes of getting Warner Brothers to greenlight a new MORTAL KOMBAT movie. Instead of a movie, Time Warner approved a new web series, MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY, a series of nine webisodes telling six stand-alone stories.
I’m glad I didn’t get around to watching either the movie or the series until now, because the second season of LEGACY will air in a few months and a feature film is reportedly in the offing for sometime in this calendar year, too. I can’t wait.
REBIRTH takes the MORTAL KOMBAT franchise and grounds it as a gritty, realistic (more or less), contemporary drama. Jackson Briggs (Michael Jai White) and Sonya Blade (Jeri Ryan) work in the Deacon City Police Department. The world of Deacon City is not-quite-apocalyptic but things are bad. There are killers running around by the names of Baraka (Lateef Crowder) and Reptile (Richard Dorton), physical oddities who are monstrous in deed as well as appearance.ni
I love the storytelling technique in REBIRTH. The entire 8 minutes promo is controlled by Jacks (not Jax, apparently). Sitting in an interrogation room, he lays out the status quo to a prisoner who’s face is kept in shadow the entire time. Jacks tells this shadowed figure about Reptile and Baraka, the latter responsible for the death of Johnny Cage (Matt Mullins), an ex-actor who’s been working undercover for the cops after his career went in the toilet.
I love this reinterpretation of the franchise, but Tancharoen went a bit too far with the gore and grotesque for my personal tastes. I will say, however, that even though I didn’t need to see Reptile munching on the flesh of decapitated heads he keeps in his refrigerator, it’s useful to clearly mark REBIRTH as something new. The video games are rather violent, of course, and this mini-film isn’t shying away that violence.
After Sonya joins Jacks in the interrogation room, the identity of their captive is revealed: Scorpion (Ian Anthony Dale). Jacks and Sonya want to release Scorpion so he can join some bad-ass martial arts tournament featuring the baddest of the bad. Given that he used to be the best assassin, they figure simply releasing him will get him an invite. Befitting the violent tone of the film, Jacks and Sonya want him to kill everyone at the tournament. They believe killing all of the Reptiles and Barakas is the only way to save the city.
The success of REBIRTH led to the creation of LEGACY, which is even better. There’s a few continuity changes – Johnny Cage isn’t dead and the supernatural element has been folded back in, and they are both positive changes. There are six stories told over the nine episodes and they’re all largely stand-alone. LEGACY doesn’t tell a story as much as it sets up a future story. In effect, it’s just REBIRTH done longer and better.
This isn’t a huge complaint because most of the stories work wonderfully and you can understand why a Michael Jai White or Jeri Ryan wouldn’t want to stick around for 9 webisodes, and that the studio might not want to pay them to stick around, either. Not knowing this, it was a bit disappointing to see them dominate the first and second episodes and then vanish from the narrative. I was also a bit disappointed that each episode reset itself – meaning that after every short film, I had to sit through a credit sequence and then a new introductory sequence that – if it were a part 2two – recapped what I had just seen.
This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I fully admit that this is a #firstworldproblem. But when I’m watching a series on Netflix, why do I have to watch the same intro and credit sequences over and over again? There should be a “skip intro” button.
So, I was annoyed, but that’s because I didn’t understand we were getting nine shorts instead of a full film.
My favorite of the nine episodes was the Scorpion and Sub-Zero entry, which takes the time to establish Hanzo Hasashi as a good father and husband before he becomes the assassin Scorpion, but the Raiden entry is equally strong. In that single-episode story, Raiden (Ryan Robbins) is teleported into an insane asylum and captured. He spends the rest of the episode dealing with a disbelieving, lobotomy happy staff. He convinces a fellow patient (played by Revolution’s Tracy Spiridakos) to kill him, which allows him to reappear in a new location. Raiden’s story is the most tightly told, and really crackles (heh) with a narrative intensity at seeing the god of thunder locked away in an insane asylum and at the mercy of merciless doctors.
It’s rare that I make recommendations for readers to go out and buy or watch a movie, but if you like action movies or MORTAL KOMBAT, I definitely recommend picking LEGACY out of the bargain bin and giving it a watch. Much like the Thomas Jane-starring Punisher “fan movie” released earlier this year was the best Punisher film we’ve seen, LEGACY is far and away the best MORTAL KOMBAT film and an excellent web series compared to anything else, too.
And if you like good sci-fi action stories with strong female leads, please check out my 2011 novel,HARPSICHORD AND THE WORMHOLE WITCHES.
Harpsichord & the Wormhole Witches. The First Novel of the Deep. Now Available at Amazon.com in Paperback. From Atomic Anxiety Press.