It's been more than two years since Kevin Tancharoen's web series re-imagining of Mortal Kombat had its first season online. That initial outing was an incredible series of ups and downs, with some of the finest moments I've ever seen in a web series, but also some clear misses.
I was looking forward to the debut of the second season, and got a little more than I bargained for. Instead of weekly releases, the whole thing came out in one big chunk. So no waiting, but the question is, 'Is this season worth not waiting for?"
One thing that has certainly continued to plague Tancharoen's baby is an intense lack of focus. Each episode or pair of episodes is meant to more or less stand on their own. In Season One this resulted in exceptional shorts like Raiden's incarceration in an asylum, and the action-packed crime drama that was the Sonya/Jax/Kano arc.
Then again, the attempts at more traditional MK cinematics like the Scorpion and Sub-Zero feud and the Edenia Saga simply felt like little more than less awful updates of the original Mortal Kombat film attempt.
Unfortunately, many of the latter aspects have managed to carry over into Season 2, further weakening the amazing urban reboot that started it all with Rebirth. The story between Scorpion and Sub-Zero is once again expanded, and there is a bright spot by turning the whole mythology inside-out. The roles that each of the ninjas plays in the deaths of the others have been turned on their heads, lending a helpful twist that keeps things fresh.
That said... these visits to feudal Japan just feel very much out of place. Does the Mortal Kombat tournament take place across time? And if it does then what form does the Lin Kuei that we saw readying their conversion into cyborgs take, and what does it have to do with the feudal Japan versions? Ian Anthony Dale once again does wonders with the part of Scorpion, and Eric Steinberg matches him well as the older Sub-Zero hoping for peace among the warring clans, but there's a miss in the process that neither actor seems to be able to overcome.
It's not that these moments aren't great; they are. It's just that the mixture of them with more modern aspects like Kurtis Stryker and Johnny Cage simply do not go well and there never seems to be any attempt to make them so.
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Those modern aspects do excel in many ways. Liu Kang, played by Brian Tee, becomes a much more nuanced and interesting character than he ever was in the games. In Tancharoen's universe he was indeed the one-dimensional hero of Earth Realm, but he threw all that away for the love of a woman. Then one day she was murdered, and Liu Kang took vengeance on her killers and descended into drunken violence and professional assassination. He basically becomes a besotted version of Scorpion.
We get to watch Kang fall further and further from being a hero, further and further away from what we always knew of him, until he is finally tempted to fight on the side Outworld by Shang Tsung.
No one casting decision was more enthusiastically met this season than that of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa returning to the role of the Outworld sorcerer. He was the most watchable part of the first feature film, and here he offers one of the few nuanced villainous roles available in the series where as otherwise you get a whole lot of stock characters. Even without landing a single blow, he battles exquisitely.
Other recastings are for the most part misses. Michelle Lee comes aboard as Mileena this go-round, but is given almost nothing to work with. She has a brief, brutal fight with Matt Mullins as the new Johnny Cage (Who has now been recast three times since Rebirth) and that would have had a lot of potential if Mullins wasn't insistent on making Cage as big a Hollywood douchebag as possible.
Of all the faces most missed is Ryan Robbins as Raiden. I cannot stress enough how much power and depth he added to the impersonal thunder god, and David Lee McGinnis barely offers us any sense of either that humanity or majesty. He is all but forgettable.
I do admire Tancharoen for having the balls to do some killing. Kenshi takes out Ermac, Kitana comes out of a lackluster fight swinging for a gruesome head chop, and who knows what the fate of either of the Sub-Zeros is ultimately. It upped the ante, and actually put a viewer on the edge of his seat since you never knew whose story was coming to a bloody end.
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That said... almost none of the fights this season really paid off in any meaningful way. Scorpion and Sub-Zero manage an above-average bout, but Liu Kang facing Cage and Stryker at the same time just served to make Earthrealm's side of the side war look really weak. Dan Southworth's Kenshi alone brings anything that feels like superhuman skill to a brawl.
We end Season 3 on a cliffhanger, and Fujin knows when we'll see either the next season or the rumored big screen film. Production-wise Legacy gets better and better, and they do seem to be picking up stronger threads to pull stories from. However, until there is some sense that this all eventually comes together to form a cohesive whole it's going to remain more of a series of fanservice shorts than a true piece of art. Check out the first episode below.