OK, there is no doubt that Kevin Tancharoen is reading these reviews, at least to judge by the disclaimer that appears before the sixth episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy. It's just a brief bit of text explaining that the series is his vision of Mortal Kombat, combining gritty realism with just a hint of mysticism. This reminder was sorely needed after the unfortunate failure in execution of the previous two episodes featuring Kitana and Mileena. Frankly, it just reinforces our theory that those episodes were some sort of test screening forced on Tancharoen by Warner executives to see how fans would react to something closer to the original Mortal Kombat films.
With episode six, Tancharoen is obviously back in the driver's seat, and it couldn't have come soon enough. We can unabashedly say that this episode is the best he's done so far. Possibly even better than the original Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that started the whole thing.
Truth be told, we cringed when we saw the episode would be centered around Raiden (Ryan Robbins), the thunder god and Earth's greatest defense against the invasion of Outworld. We were still smarting from the poorly done fantasy epic that was the Edenia arc in episodes five and six, and couldn't really think of any way introducing a literal god could help matters. That, friends and neighbors, is why Tancharoen makes the movies, and we just write about them.
We open in an asylum, focused on a handsome man in a strait jacket with a steely gaze. From off camera we hear a doctor ask, "How are we today, Lord Raiden?"
Now, that is a shake-up. Is Raiden merely the delusion of a madman, or is he really the god of thunder? He's really the god of thunder. That's not a spoiler. The very next scene shows him falling out of a lightning bolt to land on the asylum grounds in a shot that is going to draw unfortunate comparisons to Thor. His eyes glow all white as they do in the games, and as an added bit out otherworldliness he bleeds blue blood.
Raiden is found by the staff and heavily sedated while they attempt increasingly more harsh therapies to restrain his violent outburst and "delusions" of needing to attend a tournament in order to save Earth. His only friend is another patient, a girl named Blue (Tracy Spiridakos) with a propensity for cutting her wrists. Throughout the episode, we see some truly masterful tricks by Tancharoen detailing the months of Raiden's incarceration in just a few tortuous minutes.
The episode is way short on fighting, but ups the drama considerably as we watch the thunder god undergo two lobotomies, enough horse tranquilizer to make Charlie Sheen sleepy, the humiliation of his position, and the ever-growing urgency of his escape. Despite all this, Robbins maintains regal nobility even while strapped to a wheelchair. As horror after horror is heaped upon his mortal form, something of the god shines out through him.
Dare we say the whole thing is a little Christlike? He is pierced with needles and spikes, and his ascension is brought about not by his godly powers, but by his final death strapped to a surgical table - surely the modern cross. It's Blue who finally frees him with a fatal stab to the heart, and the doctors watch in awe as Raiden disappears in a flash of lightning leaving only puddles of blue blood behind.
Our complaint from the last two reviews was simple. Tancharoen first took a huge franchise, and with his own money put out a version of it that shocked, awed, and amazed fans and non-fans alike with its fresh look and fearless audacity. He managed to harness that into helming a web series that may be the first of its kind, a major studio-backed work of internet art. In short, Tanchoreon broke all the rules and did Mortal Kombat his way.
What episode six has done is brought us all back to his way. There is absolutely nothing about this episode any of us could have expected. We are watching freakin' Raiden being held prisoner while non-believers cut out parts of his brain. That's not even a fatality in the games, and they've done just about everything else.
Raiden has always been something of a cold character. Fun to play as, but in the end it's very hard to identify with omnipotence. However, just as he took the star-filled world of Hollywood and showed us its sad and harsh underside with Johnny Cage in episode three, Tancharoen has made Raiden something much better just a superbeing who throws lightning. He's made him into something we can root for because against the atrocities of the world even the gods are being tested.
In the coming tournament, he doesn't have to fear death, he has to fear failure... a failure that has already almost happened not at the hands of psychotic warriors with bladed forearms, but at the hands of a few doctors with syringes. This is how you turn a video game into cinematic greatness. Welcome back, Mr. Tanchoroen.
Be sure to check out our reviews of previous episodes.