What do you get when every episode of your show is only 10 or so minutes long? This week it’s two action sequences and a plot point. When we last left our players Sonya Blade had freed herself from her chains and her rescuer Jax and the jerk that chained her up Kano were diving away from an explosion. When this episode begins we are dropped back off in the warehouse, right in the middle of some more shooting and fighting.
First a newly freed Sonya Blade takes out some lackeys and finds herself some firepower. That’s one of two action sequences in the episode, and it’s very brief. The bulk of what we get for the rest of the run time is a hand-to-hand fight between Jax and Kano. What I saw here was a big indication of where this web series is heading in the future and what it’s going to accomplish. If you’re going to make a serial show about Mortal Kombat, probably the most essential thing that you’re going to need to get right is the hand-to-hand fighting. Now that we’ve seen some fisticuffs between two of the big characters, I have more confidence that Mortal Kombat: Legacy is getting things right.
The fight between the two characters is well choreographed and exciting. Michael Jai White and Darren Shahlavi are both trained martial artists, so this comes as no surprise, but the show about fighting should get some credit for finding people who have experience in both acting and martial arts to play their main characters. Too many other productions would have just cast pretty faces and hoped to teach them to fight later. On the other end of the spectrum, I should mention that the fighting is well choreographed, but it doesn’t look like rehearsed ballet either. The shots actually land, and the sound design and makeup department do their best to make us feel like they’re doing damage. It’s important for me that stage fighting feels like it’s dangerous and painful. Over the past ten years movie fighting has gotten way too stylized with people flying all over the place like pixies and taking endless amounts of damage like girls with daddy issues. Fights are exciting only if there are real stakes and lasting consequences for the combatants. If everyone can go on for hours, never slowing down and never feeling any pain like a couple of teenagers on PCP, then I tune out completely. This fight let me know that Jax and Kano were knocking the hell out of each other, and somebody was going to be much worse for wear when it was over.
The camera and the editing help things out as well. So far this series is stylish, but not so much so that it gets in the way of things. They’ve gone to the trouble to choreograph an entire fight scene, so thankfully the director Kevin Tancharoen and director of photography C. Kim Miles have the sense to pull the camera back far enough to let us see what the performers are doing. And in the editing room they held shots long enough and cut between few enough angles that I always knew where everyone was and could follow the sequence from blow to blow. In an era where even hugely talented filmmakers like Christopher Nolan have annoyed me with fights shot too close in and edited too rapidly to follow, this was a huge surprise. When I first heard of a Mortal Kombat web series I envisioned an MTV looking mess of nonsense. This isn’t that at all.
But it’s not a by the books, function over form presentation either. There is some artistry going on. My favorite moment of the episode is when Jax lands a big haymaker and punches Kano’s eye out of his head. The shot where it happens appropriately includes a huge blood splatter onto the camera lens. Since I had watched them brutalize each other for a few minutes at that point, it felt earned. Plus, I wasn’t somebody who became a gamer in his adult life, but I was a kid who played video games when the first Mortal Kombat came out, and I remember the big selling point of the game being the over the top gore. I’m happy to see that, by the second episode, we’ve already seen an eye get punched out of a head. It just feels right.
After that we get another artsy little shot. Exhausted from his fight, and with ashes raining down from the heavens, Jax sinks to his knees in slow motion. After a pause on his face so that we can take in what he’s been through, we get a slow-mo pan over, complete with a stylish lense flair, to Sonya chasing one of the goons into the room and blowing him away with a pistol. It looked like something Zack Snyder would have shot. But if Snyder had directed the episode he would have shot the entire fight this way, and all of the over dramatized imagery would have become numbing and meaningless. Here it is a way of letting us know that something important is happening. Wake up! We are at a moment of consequence! And, fulfilling that promise, once the sequence is over all of the characters involved are changed forever.
Which is where the episode leaves us, done with our two action sequences and getting a plot point. Fans of the video games can probably guess what the consequences of this brutal beat down are, and I will say that it involves a bloody operating table scene, but I don’t want to explicitly give away the episode’s final image. I’m still concerned with the storytelling of this series, and more explicitly, the fact that it doesn’t seem to do any storytelling; but perhaps that is the genius of the format. If you’re only watching something for ten minutes at a time, you’re going to be far less demanding of it. Could it be possible that if you’re only asking ten minutes of somebody’s time that some decent action is good enough to satisfy? I think that over time I’m going to need some sort of developing, human storyline for Mortal Kombat: Legacy to keep its hooks in me, but for now I’m content to keep checking it out just to get an action fix. Especially when the action itself is presented fundamentally better than it is in most modern, big budget, action movies. Go ahead and watch the second episode for yourself, why don’t you?