Episode 3 of the Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series is a profound shake-up in the narrative thus far. From the crime ridden streets, home to gun battles and cybernetic smugglers, we move to the depressing world of Hollywood and one of Mortal Kombat's most famous characters, Johnny Cage.
At first, no lie, the episode drags on. Cage, played by Matt Mullins, is a former teen heartthrob and Power Ranger who is struggling to transition into adult action star by pitching a Dog the Bounty Hunter-esque reality show. He claims he will bring realism to the genre, and a montage from the beginning of the episode makes it clear that though he is an actor Johnny Cage is an exceptional martial arts prodigy.
However, we're forced to sit through not one, but two homemade presentations by Cage to pitch the show to the studio that holds his contract. The first is a laughable attempt with weak fighting and Cage apprehending a DVD pirate.
We're going to give director Kevin Tancharoen the benefit of the doubt here. He is, after all, the man who seized the power of YouTube to circumvent the pitch process and claim a high profile franchise through his own vision and on his own dime. It's clear to us that this humiliating experience for Cage is a nod to the difficulties and politics of Hollywood.
Only Johnny Cage could've been used for this purpose. Cage himself is a parody of Hollywood based on difficulties Mortal Kombat creators Ed Tobias and John Boon had in making a video game adaptation of Jean Claude Van Damme's film Universal Soldier. The experience drove them to put together a smirking, egotistical prima donna action star.
Initially discouraged, Cage tries again. This time his presentation is flawless, well shot, and exciting, but he is still turned down. Dejected, Cage wanders away, only to overhear the suits pitching his concept to their newest young star, and here's where we see the real man come out. Cage lays out the studio executives, and proceeds to put a half a dozen security guards on the ground.
We see a man who realizes that there is no going back, so why not burn the bridge? It's clear to him that not only will the system that helped him rise not help him rise any further, but that they will now actively try to destroy him. His fight is as short as it is brutal. The flashy kicks, splits, and poses that we witnessed in his presentations are absent. What is left is the reality of fighting, that it is short, violent, and one man is clearly the winner.
Until this moment, the episode follows the real world vision of Tancharoen, but as Cage walks away from the blood and the executives screaming that he'll never work in this town again it all changes. Time stops, the lights dim, and a confused Cage witnesses an Asian man in a smart suit emerge from the shadows. Though he fails to introduce himself, the credits make it clear that this is Shang Tsung, wizard, consumer of souls, and the grandmaster of the Mortal Kombat tournament.
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"What if I could offer you, Mr. Cage, a way out... of everything?" he asks as we fade to black and Tyler Weiss's stellar score.
It's official, magic will happen in the Mortal Kombat: Legacy universe. Robots are nice, explosions are kinky, but the real legacy of Mortal Kombat is built on good old mysticism. It's how they were able to beat Superman in the DC Universe crossover, and now it's come home to rattle the cage of the web series.
Some of Episode 3 was a drag, but the process used to make movies is a drag. We won't begrudge Tancharoen his dig at Hollywood as long as he continues to give fans what they want, not what the suits think we want.
A new Mortal Kombat: legacy episode debuts every Tuesday at Machinima.com.