After a solid start with its more anthology-oriented first season, WB Digital and Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat Legacy has returned for a second season on Machinima of 10 short episodes outlining the first rounds of the Mortal Kombat tournament in Outworld. With the majority of the origins handled by the previous season, the plot for season 2 is now a more serialized effort, with brief flashbacks and interludes to fill in back story for the new characters introduced to the tournament (Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Kenshi) as well as fully lay out MK’s defining feud between Scorpion and Sub Zero.
Despite the overarching storyline, the series still feels like an anthology, with the characters’ interactions handled in a very episodic fashion, although overlap between them is far heavier than in the previous season. It still works really well in the bite-sized pieces in which it’s delivered, even if some of the characters feel underutilized. Ermac is one glaring example, providing little development outside of an opponent for Kenshi in the past and present that gets quickly dispatched, complete with the aurally iconic “fatality” providing punchy punctuation for the end of his un-life. The fatality quotient is certainly kicked up in this season, with some impressively juicy gore (one character’s cranium is unceremoniously removed from their jaw, another has their iconic fatality turned on them) and plenty of Tancharoen’s Chinese film-influenced framing making each bout a satisfying flurry of fists and feet.
There is one major departure from the lore in this season with Liu Kang, who is no longer Earth’s champion against Outworld, but is instead seduced to the other side by the honey-throated Shang Tsung (reprised by Cary Tagawa) after he is left ruined and abandoned. It’s a unique departure, but it works very, very well, with the usually-stoic Kang left cynical and desperate to belong after having his life stripped away. It’s almost like the antithesis of the hero’s journey, although the maddening “To Be Kontinued…” that finishes the season implies that there may still be time for retribution.
There is also some noticeable recasting, particularly Casper van Dien as Johnny Cage. While the meta-ness of the role is slightly giggle-inducing (think about it), van Dien makes the character the unlikable asshole we all know and love. There is also the awesome casting of Marc Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Iron Chef America) as the shaolin monk Kung Lau, but here he is woefully underused, with his impressive acrobatics and skills limited primarily to a brief interlude in his monastery, when we should have been blessed with his prowess in some real bouts. Finally, there is the matter of Ermac. Poor, poor Ermac. While the costume redesigns are a revelation in most cases (Scorpion’s mask is absolutely brilliant), Ermac looks like some sort of black-metal leper, a flailing mass of rags and corpse paint. It wouldn’t be such a sticking point if the rest of the costumes weren’t so incredibly well done.
For the brief time that the season runs, Mortal Kombat Legacy is well-shot, well-written, and well-produced. It’s an exciting preview of what a larger-budget MK movie would look like under Tancharoen’s direction, and it leaves you aching for the next season. As an added bonus, there are a few ESPN-parodying shorts riffing on “This is SportsCenter” that left me in stitches. For a series that costs you nothing more than time, its value is really quite high.