Warner’s online web series experiment chugs along and has just released episode 3, entitled “Johnny Cage.”
I’m not sure what the target view counts and hopes for the series were, but the first episode is sitting at about 8 million views, with all the hype that comes with being the first one. The second is creeping towards 2 million, a pretty steep drop considering they were only released a week apart. It doesn’t seem like this series will be building a great deal of steam, though this is surely looked at as evergreen content that will sit and gain clicks for years to come. Ironically enough for an internet-based release, you can’t exactly force the opening weekend, immediate gratification model onto the series. That said, I’m sure everyone was hoping for more of a splash. Maybe that’s why they’re pulling the current bullshit of censoring episodes until there are enough clicks/likes to release them uncensored on Friday… or something? Seems kind of dumb to take away the one draw this series has and make a big deal out of censoring it. Just bring the carnage and put it out there- overdoing the hype and wringing out bullshit suspense from the gore is just going to create disappointment when it doesn’t hold up.
If you want something Mortal Kombat related that doesn’t disappoint, I will go ahead and point you towards the Skrillex-produced theme for Reptile, from the album inspired by the new game [buy from CHUD!].
Regardless, it’s probably best to keep you up to date with each episode, so I’ll be following along and giving you my brief thoughts as they come. Hopefully you’ll do the same in the comments and on the boards.
Episode 3: Johnny Cage
A little bit more clever in overall presentation than so far, but this tiered release of censored/uncensored is aggressively stupid. Clearly a desperate move to drive up views that could be won with inventive action/gore. You’ve got to turn these episodes into memes, into viral hits, which would best be best accomplished by the kind of twitter-worthy “Did you see that?” stunts or gags. If twitter lights up because the latest MK episode has a somebody’s spine being ripped out and used to strangle them or whatever, and that in turn becomes a GIF meme, etc etc. …that will all be worth many more views than trying to convince me I need to watch the episode twice to catch all the “fucks.”
As for the content itself: Matt Mullins does a serviceable job as a sort of poor-man’s James Franco, though Johnson Phan is kind of a young, not-so-intimidating presence for Shang Tsung. There are a lot of things you could improve from the (still amazingly fun) original Mortal Kombat film, but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s perfectly cheesy, evil performance is not one of them.
The fighting is the same kind of shit that’s filled the series so far, this time weakened by noticeably terrible sound design. Has the schedule for this become too grueling or did they just not budget well? Either way, the sound guys need to get thrown a bone here- action is one of the genres most quickly cheapened by bad sound.
Johnny’s context is clever enough for something like this, and the put-downs of Lawman and Dog The Bounty Hunter are cute, though the real-world references quickly become forced (“yeah, like Buffy!”). Again though, the story could be “every character ever is arbitrarily tossed in a big warehouse for 15 minutes at a time!” and it wouldn’t matter, if they were showing me something fun. I hope there is still time to apply that to the production before everyone wastes another hour or more of their time…
Previous episodes + reviews:
Episode 2: Jax, Sonya, and Kano (Part 2)
“Not doing much to change my overall impression with a short that’s half-recap half-addendum. There’s nothing here that couldn’t/shouldn’t have been in the first short. Sonya was already busting ass at the end of the first episode, so not even the illusion of tension was created to justify an episode break when so little would be added to. Why is there even a recap at all? They’re 10 minute episode! They’re already fucking recaps in and of themselves? Not to mention the fact that the last episode is a click away! Silly. The effects remain decent for the scale of the show, but damn if the speed ramping doesn’t look shit.
Also, now the eyeball moment –the one unique draw this had– has been censored until some dumb goal has been reached on a different video or whatever. Staggeringly lame.”
Episode 1: Jax, Sonya, and Kano (Part 1)
“Even though it looks sharp enough and there’s nothing particularly groan-worthy about it, the short still disappoints even mild expectations simple because it does almost nothing. It’s even hard to judge if the series is using the proof-of-concept piece as canon, or if it’s jumping off from scratch because so little happens. Either way a mistake has been made, as there is barely an ounce of the fantastic here, nothing interesting or fun that ties this into Mortal Kombat right from the start. Instead, we get pretty standard low-budget action set in a warehouse amid machinery. This thing may as well have been hosted on Vimeo and be a reel for a cinematography student for all the cheesy light-bulb set dressing, knock-off speed-ramping, and egregious slow-mo. The thing that could make this fun is the over-the-top gritty treatment of the inherently cartoony material present in the MK universe, and there’s none of that so far.
The costuming, props, effects, directing, action and acting are all on par with web shorts that have relatively respectable budgets and competent filmmakers behind them, but regardless they are too cheap and thin to excite without some kind of interesting hook. The mere presence of Sonja, Jaxx, and Kano are not enough to elicit interest, considering they’re the most boring characters of the whole gallery. Also, a few “fucks” and some After Effects blood fx do not make the series edgy from the get go.
All of this to say: boring. A tiny sprinkle of budget and a brand name is not enough to set your 12 minutes apart from the whole ocean of internet-based cleverness Warner Brothers. Get some weird characters and interesting shit going but quick, or get lost among all the no-budget fan trailers that at least have something funny or cute to offer. There’s no chance this will ever be a legitimately dark series, or something with literary merit- so step up the krazy, I say.” [Article]
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