Blood and Guts, but Mostly Guts
Its been fascinating seeing Mortal Kombat evolve over time. In its original form, the 1992 arcade game, Mortal Kombat rejected the Asian art aesthetic from rival Street Fighter. Instead, Mortal Kombat chest-puffed itself with realistic graphics and westernized violence, while paying homage to eastern kung-fu cinema. Here in Mortal Kombat Legends, the franchise turns toward – rather than away from – Street Fighter’s anime influences.
Few franchises could survive such a cultural hodgepodge; Mortal Kombat Legends makes it work, retelling an origin story seen in Mortal Kombat X. Although the roster features a number of gods, it’s ninja Scorpion who’s imbued with a crassly violent, western Catholicism backstory. He’s a Christ figure, crucified on chains in hell, reborn after death, then engaging an eternal fight with evil. There’s blasphemy, and then there’s Mortal Kombat inventing new tiers of sacrilegious offense, in-line with how the lore operates.
In the fighting competition itself, Mortal Kombat Legends brings American military gruffness and vain celebrities into the brawl. European mystics collide with Chinese warriors. Behind it all, a German-esque ruler who seeks total control over this tournament. It’s a story familiar given the near 30-year legacy, if finally brought into feature length media without relenting. PG-13 this is not.
Mortal Kombat Legends is obscenely, unnecessarily brutal; that’s the point. Born of counter-culture, Mortal Kombat’s notoriety dominates discussion, and it’s relentless here too. Heads don’t just explode – they’re chopped into mush. Or, maybe the skull is ripped from flesh, leaving behind saggy skin. Mortal Kombat Legends evokes the anger and grisliness of revenge from Scorpion’s lead as he seeks to kill the ninja clan who murdered his family… all of the clan. Literally piece-by-piece too: Scorpion dismembers an arm, then slices off the fingers, just because.
Hidden in that melee and ludicrously flashy blood-letting is a grounded philosophy. Hard as it is to see, Mortal Kombat Legends pays heed to the kung-fu cinema which inspired it. Moralizing about life’s cruelty, respecting order in conflict, and defining one’s self sit under the body parts. There’s social comedy too, with Johnny Cage silenced by Sonya Blade, refusing Cage’s outmoded advances in a strike (or, multiple strikes) for equality.
While not generous in its animation, action feeds off the anime inspiration. It’s dazzling, actually, how Mortal Kombat Legends keeps finding ways to make decapitations look new, through to the finale. That said, Mortal Kombat Legends isn’t doing anything new, so much as exploiting a market hungry to see the franchise properly brought into a different medium. The R-rating is appropriate, if also marketing. Based on the final moments, a sequel is due, continuing the game’s story, pointlessly for the fan base who already knows where this ends.
The Scorpion’s Revenge subtitle isn’t wrong – he unarguably gets revenge – if under the previously known events that pith Earthrealm against Outworld. That’s less about Scorpion than expected, but still a mercilessly entertaining watch.
In sharpness/resolution terms, the Blu-ray and UHD fare similarly well. Well defined lines accurately capture the source, including some sketch-like backgrounds with tiny details. Animation isn’t complex, but solid.
Jumping to the UHD does two things – one being better compression. The Blu-ray is fine, just a hair noisier, but it’s enough to boost the UHD quality. Two, obviously, being HDR. The latter is not a total win though. There’s a blanket approach applied, where anything white is treated as a light source. Where this makes sense for Raiden’s eyes, not so much for Johnny Cage’s suit or teeth. The latter equals torches or flames in brightness. At least black levels reach proper density.
Striking color accentuates blood. There’s lots of it. Primaries hit hard, rich and saturated, another step up from the Blu-ray, if to limited significance. On the plus side, there’s limited banding, unusual in Warner’s animation.
Both formats brings DTS-HD 5.1 tracks. Disappointment stems from a tight soundstage, unusually plain in directionality, and seated in the fronts. Stereos track action, while surrounds tend to hold back. Only the most obvious or ambient sounds fill the full soundstage.
However, Mortal Kombat Legends is not subtle in range. Crushing bass adds to the already absurd violence. It’s non-stop forcefulness. Punches and kicks and slams exhibit fullness akin to any major big studio movie. While actual design mirrors the DTV production values, LFE steps up to bolster the presentation.
A dull five minute featurette goes over how Mortal Kombat transitioned to animation, and what’s changed. The overall world and lore is given seven minutes. The character run down takes less than five minutes, and sound design takes all of four minutes.
For anything meaty, select the commentary (on the Blu-ray alone). Producer Rick Morales and writer Jeremy Adams run through the production in a generally active chat.
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Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge
Finally bringing the videogame series’ trademark brutality to the film movie/animated medium, Mortal Kombat Legends is familiar, but entertaining.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: