Fuck LEGACY's dumb logo. Gonna stick with a better version.

The WB Mortal Kombat web series continues to chug along, with Episode 4 squeezing out onto the tubes and plopping right in front of you down below.

This latest episode pretty much completely ditches the gritty, urban realism of the original proof of concept video and sticks with Mortal Kombat canon, or something close to it. Don’t expect Mileena and Kitana to be rival, twin-sister chick-bouncers at the Outworld underground nightclub or whatever the fuck… They’re daughters of the king of an ancient realm, stolen by Shao Kahn, yadda yadda. All of which is of course rendered in the lovely sub-DTV quality the series has demonstrated so far. Even better, they mix in the gestural flash-style animation that’s grown so popular (and presumably cheap), though they do so in a completely haphazard, random manner.

We got a lot of shit for being “unending downers” about the Walking Dead around here (a shit show about which I don’t regret a word of criticism- there’s always a chance they’ll actually shape up and care about writing rationally next season), and I’m hesitant to continue doing the same thing with this series. That noted, I think it’s worth saying about MK:L that they had a successful angle to work with, one that was cheesy and extreme enough to be easily written, rewarding, and attention-grabbing. Now the gratuitous hyper-Nolanizing of the Mortal Kombat universe has been ditched in favor of cowardly sticking to the same boring fucking story they’ve told for running on 20 years.

It’s such a bummer that this web series has been produced with no actual intent on experimenting with the format as an opportunity to try something new. We all assumed they greenlit the proof of concept as a web series because they didn’t want to make a movie that fully ditched game canon, but it seems they were unwilling to let it happen here either. Now we’re left with a bunch of thin cut scenes with embarrassingly low production value- is this doing anything at all for the brand? What happened to the ultra-grimy elseworld approach that actually turned a few heads? People cared about the original short because Baraka was suddenly re-imagined as an ultra-grimy, self-mutilating doctor with decent make-up, rather than a LOTR orc knock-off with a Party City mask and costume. And that’s just one example.

Looking back at the very first responses to the original test, the common thread was that for all the silliness, the fight scenes were shockingly intense and well thought-out. What happened to that? While they haven’t been awful per se, it would require spectacularly low standards to enjoy them as anything particularly fun or well executed. There’s probably half a dozen better fight scenes from random sources in the YouTube “suggested videos” column near each MK:L episode than are actually in the episodes themselves.

What a fuck up. It would be silly to feel invested in the success of a Mortal Kombat web series, but a hit here could have led to an accelerated investment in the form, and the opportunity for more filmmakers to do original things, or at least have more chances to reinterpret smaller franchises in original ways. Imagine a universe where this stuck with the original idea, was successful, and saw the studios investing money in both original web-series of a similar scale, and short series of established franchises. I suppose there’d be the danger of everything turning into gritty nerd fantasies, but the potential would still be huge.

There’s another half of this particular set-up, and I imagine there’s a back story or two more before the tournament proper begins. We’ll see if it improves.

LAST 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.

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