1995's film adaptation of Mortal Kombat, helmed by future Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson, was a cult classic to fans of the games, despite eschewing much of the game's iconic violence to secure a PG-13 rating. However, its well-choreographed fight scenes and faithfulness to the game's mythology made it easy to overlook the lack of fatalities (except for that bitchin' scene where Scorpion's head gets hacked in half by Johnny Cage) and just enjoy the martial arts mayhem. As for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the 1997 follow up…the less said about it, the better. However, there's something oddly amusing about Dexter's dad being cast as Raiden, inexplicable CGI monsters being punched in the ass, and agonizing dialogue, but I digress.
Now, in the wake of the wildly successful Mortal Kombat video game reboot, Warner Bros. has returned to Mortal Kombat in a more cinematic sense with Mortal Kombat Legacy, a gritty reimagining of the MK mythos by Kevin Tancharoen, director of Fame and…Glee: The 3D Concert Movie…oh shit, what have they done?
Except that, in addition to a handful of pop/dance movies to his credit, Tancharoen also released the fantastically gritty and gory viral video Mortal Kombat Rebirth, which transplanted the eastern mysticism of the MK series to a real world setting, where Reptile was a cannibalistic serial killer with harlequin ichthyosis (for the love of god, don't Google it!) and Baraka was a mad plastic surgeon with an addiction to body modifications. This wound up being a springboard for Tancharoen, who is now directing the forthcoming Mortal Kombat movie reboot for 2013, as well as the aforementioned Mortal Kombat Legacy.
Instead of a full feature-length film Legacy is a series of short episodes, originally aired on Machinima, that provide a fascinating—if revisionist—look at the backstory of several of the franchise's characters. Some, such as the series opener that center on Jax (Michael Jai White), Sonya Blade (Jeri Ryan) and Kano (Darren Shahlavi) stick fairly close to the characters' roots and motivations where others, such as the peculiar piece involving Raiden in a mental hospital, veer wildly off course. In spite of this fragmentation, there is a consistency to the look and feel of the series, even as it jumps back and forth between the mystical and more grounded elements of the Mortal Kombat mythos.
There are a few more experimental episodes that absolutely make the series truly special. The origin story of Mileena and Kitana, for example, alternates between live-action and animation for a strange, dreamlike feel while a voiceover narrator adds the edge of a twisted fairy tale. Johnny Cage is given a more interesting angle as well, with the actor's rise and fall being documented on a primetime entertainment news show before we watch Johnny commit career suicide with his reality crime fighting program "You Got Caged." The rest are more traditional, but no less satisfying action fare, with some beautiful direction, shockingly good production values, and fantastic fight choreography. Even the costume redesigns of iconic characters like Scorpion and Sub Zero are just as effective as the complete accuracy of characters like Cyrax and Sektor.
While it may not be the big-budget, gore-soaked Mortal Kombat movie that we will hopefully be getting in 2013, Mortal Kombat Legacy is a satisfying, experimental look at the mythology that will certainly please fans of the franchise.