Kevin Tancharoen is doing the impossible with the second season of Mortal Kombat: Legacy: He’s making both web series and video-game adaptations cool. And the all-digital series is not even what Tancharoen set out to do when he created the 2010 short Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.
The film was Tancharoen's unsolicited trial run for a full-length Mortal Kombat feature, and Warner Bros. couldn’t ignore its rapid online popularity. A movie was eventually greenlit and is now in the works, but this week is all about Legacy. The web show, also produced by Warner Bros., returned Thursday on Machinima's YouTube channel with 10 new episodes. And unlike the first season's nine largely standalone episodes, this time there's one cohesive, overarching story being told.
"[Rebirth] came out, a week later I was at Warner Bros., and I had to deliver 10 short films in four months, produced, written and done,” Tancharoen said of the first season while speaking with Spinoff Online at the Season 2 premiere in Los Angeles. “And so we decided to do an anthology just because it would have been too difficult for the time we had to craft a whole season. For [Season 2] we had a little bit more time to design the tournament structure and have it be overarching character developments and payoffs and closure. So I'm excited to do that because it's a more traditional style of storytelling."
Actors new to Legacy’s second season include Casper Van Dien, best known for portraying Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers, and martial-arts expert/Iron Chef America Chairman Mark Dacascos, Van Dien takes over as Johnny Cage from Matt Mullins, who played the washed-up actor-turned-fighter in the first season, while Dacascos portrays the "fighting monk" Kung Lao. Dacascos said he jumped at the chance to audition for the series.
"The reason I auditioned for the show in the first place was Kevin's sensibility and his vision of the whole Mortal Kombat story — you know, the characters, the relationships, the grit and the gravitas that he brings," he said at the event. "And the fighting. I loved it."
That's something fans have picked up on as well: The franchise is more than two decades old, but no other take on the Mortal Kombat has been so dark and realistic. Tancharoen has also left his own mark on the world, particularly in episodes like Season 1's "Raiden," which portrayed a classic character in a new, more twisted light.
"A lot of people really liked that, and I was very happy because my instincts are to do that," Tancharoen said. "I'm a big horror fan. I'm a big David Fincher fan, and that was, like, my horror version of ."
When it debuted in 2011 on YouTube, the first season was the most successful web series yet on the site, accruing more than 70 million views total in the two years since, Tancharoen said. With a bigger budget and more resources and time for production, he's looking to repeat that success with Season 2. Van Dien is hoping some of that will rub off on him as well.
"I can't go down the street sometimes without people yelling, 'Rico!' or some quote from [Starship Troopers] or something," he said. "I'm hoping that this has a similar effect maybe."
Van Dien is perfect for the role of Johnny Cage, a cocky, aging fighter who's been in the game series since the beginning. During the premiere event he stayed in character, periodically yelling out "Mortal Kombat!" and his catchphrase, "You got caged!" The actor also shared an anecdote about his first meeting with Tancharoen. “
“I went in and I said, 'So you're the director. So you're the guy that wanted me to play this D-list actor that couldn't get a job, right?'" he told Spinoff. "And he goes, 'Yeah.' And I go, 'What are you trying to say?' And he goes, 'Oh, my God, you're perfect for this.' And I go, 'What are you trying to say?!'"
Although Season 2 of Mortal Kombat: Legacy is based loosely on the first game in the series, which depicted the 10th Mortal Kombat fighting tournament, Tancharoen said the story arc is more like a war than a traditional tournament. That means more fighting and a lot more of the game series' infamous "fatalities."
"We're using the term 'tournament' very loosely. The reason why is because when you go and film something that's supposed to be a tournament, you're kind of already cornered into a structure," he said. "I didn't want to do a martial-arts tournament story because we've seen The Quest. We've seen Bloodsport. We've seen Enter the Dragon, you know?"
Game characters being portrayed in Legacy for the first time in Season 2 include Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Kenshi, and Ermac. There are dozens of other Mortal Kombat characters to choose from, but Tancharoen said he's saving desirable but visual effects-heavy characters like Kabal, Smoke and the four-armed warrior Goro for the feature film so he won't need to "half-ass it." That's the same reason you won't see Cyrex and Sektor, major characters in the first season, in Season 2: The CG- and motion capture-powered figures would make too big of a dent in the budget.
As far as the movie goes, Tancharoen wouldn't reveal anything, but he did reiterate that it won't be connected to Legacy. "I want Legacy to keep living on for a long time, and I don't want it to have to depend on the film, and vice versa," he explained. "And when it comes to the feature film, I've always wanted to re-brand it as its own thing, because I can't expect some of the movie-going audience to sit through 20 episodes of an online series. So after a lot of soul-searching and thinking about it I decided to keep it separate, because I want Legacy to live on potentially as 45-minute episode seasons and become its own epic."
He compared his vision for Mortal Kombat to what Warner Bros. has achieved with Batman, with the Nolan films, Arkham games and animated series all occupying separate spheres of the franchise universe. But he said his next dream project is actually a gritty adaptation of Power Rangers, a childhood obsession (alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terminator and, of course, Mortal Kombat). He outlined his ideal adaptation, a "really dark" version of Power Rangers in which the heroes have disbanded and some time has passed.
"Tommy, the green ranger, is an MMA fighter; red ranger's like a bartender; the pink ranger is like a dancer; and the yellow ranger died," he explained. "And they all have to reunite because Zordon is dying, and there's one final mission for them to do, and I just wanted to do some dark — like, Lord Zedd is just evil, and Rita is this withering old witch, and Alpha has, like, got a potty mouth. Oh, [the putties] would be different. That would be crazy actually. Yeah, I would just make them so creepy looking. They would look like demonic monsters, you know? And Alpha, just over the course of the years, would just become angry."
He said his vision includes the original cast reuniting, but that he'd have to redesign the costumes, as well as the Rangers' showy fighting style. "I would also make their fighting style like The Raid: Redemption. Like, just brutal. No more poses and 'Yeah!'" he said. "Will I ever get to do that? Probably not."
Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 2 is available now on YouTube.