In 2010, a man named Kevin Tancharoen decided to make a short film entitled Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. This short film took a more gritty, realistic approach to the series, giving real-world backgrounds for characters rather than supernatural ones. He did this in order to use it as a pitch to Warner Bros to make a new Mortal Kombat film. The short became incredibly popular, and although talks for the new film are still in the works, what he got instead was a web-series.
Each episode was to focus on one or two characters at a time, giving their individual backstories in preparation for the possible upcoming film. However, upon putting the episodes up on YouTube via Machinima, the creators received mixed reactions. The web-series went back to the supernatural elements instead, shying away from the realistic approach the original pitch gave. Some theorize that, while the first few episodes hit the realism note, episodes 4 and 5 enter a territory so drastically different that many think Warner Bros forced Tancharoen to alter his approach slightly and test fan reaction to the supernatural. This theory is backed up due to the fan backlash and the fact episode 6 hits the realism roots again and is deemed one of the best episodes of the series.
It didn't help that the show was soon censored down to remove all the blood and uber-violence that has become a staple of the franchise. While Machinima promised fans that they would be releasing uncut versions later on, they never did. Fan suspicions became true when Warner released the uncut Blu-Ray of the entire first season (which is what I'll be reviewing today).
Despite its rocky start, the web-series is planning to have a second season, bringing in more classic and fan-favorite characters, such as Liu Kang and Kung Lao. But right now, we're focusing on the first season. How does it all hold up together when it's put all together? Let's find out.
I actually did watch episodes on YouTube when they first premiered, but due to a lack in a proper schedule, I fell away from it for a while. I did eventually go back and watch some of the last episodes posted up, though I'm not sure I ever entirely finished it out. Even still, I don't remember most of it that well. But this is going to be a different kind of review. As this is a series, I'm going to review each segment separately and then go into how it works as a whole. So let's start this.
Episodes 1 & 2 - Jax, Sonya, And Kano
The first episode is mostly set-up with a little action near the end. But it's the second episode in this arc that makes it worth it. The action, particularly between Jax and Kano, is top notch and hard hitting--especially a particular money-shot at the end of the fight. The next best thing is the aftermath of the fight. We get the origins of how Kano got his eye and Jax gets his arms (though you only see the former). On the whole, those are the two best parts of these episodes. The weak spot, unfortunately, is Sonya. She's not given much to do in either episode. She fires one bullet the entire time and never fights, so she's no better than some damsel in distress. But overall, the story was a good start to the season--not perfect, but let it go in a really good direction.
Episode 3 - Johnny Cage
Johnny Cage is a failing actor who is afraid his time in the spotlight is coming to an end. But after some producers screw him over, he's offered a proposition he might not be able to refuse.
After such a gritty opening, this is a weak follow-up. It starts off with some fake E! True Hollywood Story on him. The majority of the episode after that is footage of some reality TV show he's trying to pitch. There's barely any story to the episode, and just when it gets good (when Shang Tsung shows up), the episode ends. Also, because of Shang Tsung, this is the first episode that dabbles in a bit of the magical side of things, though just at the very end. I also had an issue with the actor who played Johnny, as he looked like a mousey Ricky Martin than any kind of action star. So, yeah, I didn't care much for this one.
Episodes 4 & 5 - Kitana and Mileena
I can understand the hate for these two episodes. These episodes take everything that Mortal Kombat: Rebirth promised and spat it all away. It takes away all the gritty realism and, instead, makes it not-as-gritty fantasy. Two of the coolest things about the short film was how they handled both Reptile and Baraka, making them disfigured serial killers. Here, Baraka is just an Orc-like creature from another dimension. And to top it all off, half of each episode here is animated. It doesn't help that the entire thing is just a narrated montage instead one basic story.
But looking at them alone, they still only kind of work. The budget is low, and even the beards look fake. The animation is decent, and almost all of the blood comes in those segments (and there is quite a bit there). The action during the live-action segments is mixed. On the one hand, the fighters (either the actresses or stunt doubles) showed they had skill. But the way it was filmed made it painfully clear they weren't even coming close to hitting each other, despite the reactions of being hit. So mixing together these two viewpoints, I can say these are overall not terrible, but mediocre episodes that just don't quite come together. And I agree with the theory that Warner stepped in and forced the creators to do this instead, since these two episodes are so drastically different (in every way) to every other episode.
Episode 6 - Raiden
This episode begins with a note from the creator stating that this episode is the perfect mix of realism and mysticism that fans expect of the series, particularly since the massive amounts of complaints over the last two episodes. And he was right. If they're going to include the mystical elements, this should be the degree to which they do it. It was the perfect amount of gritty realism and hint of magic (that mainly come in how the episode opens and closes). The actor is fantastic, and the visuals are done very well. It's just a fantastic episode, and arguably the best of the season. I also love how he gets his trademark hat at the end.
Episodes 7 & 8 - Scorpion and Sub-Zero
The Raiden episode might be the best overall, but these two are my favorite. These two episodes have the strongest story and the strongest characters with Hanzo and his son. You really feel for Hanzo as you get to know him through the setup of Episode 7. And then you get the fighting in Episode 8 (which is done incredibly well, I might add), and you can feel the drama and urgency behind it. Sub-Zero does show some supernatural abilities, which I both like and dislike, as it conflicts me on the realism aspect of everything (though at least by the end, you realize there's a reason he can do it). But really, this is kind of how the Kitana and Mileena episode should have been handled--a similar style to this would have worked well with that story. The ending is also kind of iffy as more blatant mysticism is brought it, but it's cool how a framing revenge plot ties in. Overall, it's not as balanced as the Raiden episode, but where it succeeds, it really succeeds.
Episode 9 - Cyrax and Sektor
This was the one episode I hadn't seen. It's a good idea, but kind of a weak execution. And I say this only because it felt way too short and incomplete. It's not a bad episode, really, and the action is good. But after the emotional stakes of the last two episodes, this one seemed to fall flat. There was no connection to any of the characters. And once the two turned cyborg, everything was mainly middle-grade CGI, so even the fighting was iffy. They hit hard, but I just didn't care about what was happening. And then it ends. So like I said, it had some good ideas, but the execution could have been better.
Out of 9 episodes, 5 are really good. The other 4 are a big lacking, mainly due to stylistic differences, poor writing, and iffy casting (at least in the case of Johnny Cage). Since they don't need to be watched altogether (they're basically just shorts that barely connect), I'd suggest that, if you're interested, you only need to check out Episodes 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8. But definitely check out Mortal Kombat: Rebirth if you're one of the few people who still hasn't seen it. That was amazing, and I wish this could have followed a little more closely with that. But as it is, this was suitable, and I will check out the next season to see where it goes. If I had to rank the episodes individually, I'd do it (from best to worst) as 6, 7/8, 1/2, 9, 4/5, and 3. But as a whole, it gets the following...
I Am McLovin!