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Best And Worst Things In Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle Of The Realms

After the 2021 live-action "Mortal Kombat" film had its turn to bust a few heads, the timing was right for a highly-anticipated sequel to the well-received animated bloodbath from 2020, "Scorpion's Revenge." 

"Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms" was released through digital platforms and for Blu-Ray with no intentions of squandering the praise its predecessor had fought so hard for. With most of the voice cast and behind-the-scenes talent returning, the kombatants found themselves headed into Outworld soon after the events of the last adventure, setting the stage for another action-packed thrill ride, this one overflowing with blood, brutality, and higher stakes.

"Scorpion's Revenge" was an excellent introduction, but it tried to cram too much into a short runtime and didn't come close to using its full cast of characters, leaving a lot of deserving fighters on the sidelines and viewers unsatisfied. The sequel promised to focus on other favored characters, especially Liu Kang, who producer Rick Morales recently told IGN is "the heart of it," as well as including more of the franchise's mythology. 

The creators went into "Battle of the Realms" knowing a good bit about what the fans wanted, and they delivered, for the most part. Although the movie acts as a solid follow-up to the previous release and will leave fans with plenty of memorable moments, overall there is plenty to discuss about both the good and the bad.

Best: Joel McHale as Johnny Cage

Johnny Cage is a "Mortal Kombat" mainstay going back to the very first entry of the hit game series. He brings to life a strong hero archetype, bravado and a sense of humor as well. Looking at the discussions around his absence in the recent live-action film, and the fans' desires to see him portrayed by the right actor, it all shows how important he can be to any project in the franchise. It isn't just important to give the Hollywood hunk enough screen time, after all, and make sure his one-liners are crisp, but finding the perfect person to bring the whole package to life.

Joel McHale was a shining part of "Scorpion's Revenge," and he continues that streak as one of the best characters in "Battle of the Realms." His relationship with Sonya Blade and the levity he offers is amusing without taking away from what's going on around him. McHale has spoken about how he improvised with his scenes, and that may have helped make some of his moments more genuine and funnier. The only complaint, of course, is that Cage never secures that big win in this adventure, but he's still a memorable part of the Earthrealm defenders, even while being a bit of a jerk.

Worst: Not enough realms

There are many different realms in the "Mortal Kombat" lore — several smaller ones, and six primary worlds, but it's rare that any others than Earthrealm, Outworld, and Netherrealm get to play much of a part in the adventures. Even Edenia, where several characters hail from, is usually relegated to a mention or the tiniest flashback. Worlds like Chaosrealm and Seido are barely mentioned even in the newer games, having become afterthoughts in the character endings for the most part. This also means that smaller realms the lore has introduced, like Vaeternus, Zaterra, Arnyek, and Osh-Tekk, have little chance of ever being relevant, especially since they've already been merged into Outworld.

"Battle of the Realms" still has a story that lives up to the name, but it seems silly now to have hoped the film would have seen our heroes go to these places or even give us new information on them. Seeing our champions jump across worlds for the various fights would have been quite the treat, but even on the worlds that were used, there wasn't many new details be glimpsed. Even some of the newer spots from the movie look as if they were taken directly from the games, such as the shots of Shinnok's chambers, apparently directly inspired by the in-game cutscenes from the Konquest mode of "Mortal Kombat: Armageddon." 

Best: Game locations

"Scorpion's Revenge" gave fans a wonderful look at the key parts of Shang Tsung's island, but the sequel film opened the battlefield up a bit, offering animators a chance to show off some areas with which players of the games have become quite familiar. The majority of "Battle of the Realms" takes place in Outworld, but beginning portions show off a few locales on Earth, with brief interludes in Netherrealm, the meeting place of the Elder Gods, and an incredible exercise in color toward the end as realms begin to merge. Most of these are gorgeous backgrounds and help bring their individual parts of the story to life.

Most notable on Earth is the Lin Kuei temple, a site that has been shown in different forms before, but could never be explored thoroughly enough. The audience sees a slow, long shot of the main structure, the outside courtyard, and a look at the inner sanctum of the Grandmaster. Warm, radiant, containing statues of famous Lin Kuei warriors, it all ties together the foreboding feeling the scene presents. 

In Outworld, the participants express how intimidating Shao Kahn's fortress is, and a brief glimpse of his throne room shows off that awesome green hue behind him — there is a lot of detail put into the arena where most of the fighting takes place. These are all solid representations of the stages, mostly inspired by the newer games, but the extra bits and additional minutiae help make the worlds feel more alive.

Worst: No new lore

One of the awesome things that the last couple of "Mortal Kombat" games did was progress the overall narrative, giving fans new events and lore to chew on. With the subject matter for "Battle of the Realms," there was hope that the film would give us fresh tidbits of lore or clarify some of the existing meta-plot. This isn't just to learn more about the realms, but a hope that fans could see deeper backgrounds for various characters, or some progression in the relationships they share. None of this really happens, however, with the exception of Liu Kang, which is only a brief moment that shows the death of his parents. What was that even connected to, and why were those Tarkatans on Earth, hunting them down?

Those with a truly extensive knowledge of "Mortal Kombat" could potentially fill in some gaps, but not all of what is believed is also considered canon, so a film adaptation like this presents an interesting opportunity. The real missed prospect here is not absorbing anything new about the Elder Gods, the newer Titans, or especially The One Being, who plays a pivotal role at the end. 

True, The One Being is supposed to be a mysterious figure that no one truly comprehends, but it seems like the writers purposefully guided the plot around him — perhaps so they wouldn't have to answer any questions or say something new. It's a shame, and it feels like this promising alternate story, though full of passion, falls short of doing anything truly spectacular.

Best: Creative violence

Although the last one did a fair job in delivering on violence and bloodshed, "Battle of the Realms" pushed it just a bit further. 

"Mortal Kombat" is a series that needs to embrace its more vicious tendencies to feel at home, flexing those gore muscles; judging by the creativity in some of these murders, they are loving the recent R-ratings. Audiences will see some brutal finishes and a couple of interesting takes on classic fatalities, but a large portion of the carnage comes from the standard fighting, dispatching grunts in the most over-the-top way possible.

Not only is there a ton of decapitations, bone-breaking, and ripping parts out of perfectly good people, but the first act takes advantage of an army of disposable soldiers. We see shots linger more when some of this happens, and much of the art and animation choices around these attacks are meant to accent the savagery each fighter possesses when pushed. This leads to the use of more X-ray moves (which felt like they were going to outstay their welcome, but they all feel just as painful and crunchy as the last one), adding to the engagement of the fights and showing what the combatants are experiencing at great lengths. 

Worst: Stryker and Jade

One of the problems with movies like this is the desire to throw in as many extra characters as possible, sometimes because it'll get the fans excited to see one of their low-key favorites — but more often than, they are in there because the script needed someone to take a loss or eat a fatality. Sometimes, they get to look cool, have a few lines and go out in a way that'll build them up for future iterations (as we saw in "Battle of the Realms" with D'vorah), but then there are fighters like Li Mei, who should have been treated with more respect.

When it happens to those that are involved in the story, the lack of a proper background, a brief origin, or even a hint of notable characteristics is extremely obvious. For this installment, it seems like Stryker and Jade took the bullet — both being introduced by name, having some lines, and nothing else worth mentioning. 

Jade's relation to Kitana isn't brought up at all, and she gets her skull cracked open by Sonya early on and then knocked off-screen with an impressive uppercut from Liu Kang, never to be seen again. Stryker, at least, gets a little bit more time to shine. He may be "the new guy," but he's also a capable hero, and he at least receives a beautifully disgusting death scene. Still, these are two great characters that feel wasted and would have benefited from more moments focused on them.

Best: Ninja action

Scorpion and Sub-Zero are two of the most iconic characters in the "Mortal Kombat" franchise, but players have a soft spot for all of the various palette-swapped ninja characters from the games. Though "Scorpion's Revenge" gave us the classic origin of the iconic ninja duo, fans were excited to see the sequel bring in Cyrax, Sektor, Smoke, and, of course, the younger Sub-Zero, Kuai Liang, who's seeking revenge for his dead brother. 

These characters are all badass, and each given at least a brief moment to shine. Having their own storyline going on outside of the tournament, but with their robotic arsenals and elemental powers, their fights almost steal the show.

That's right, "Battle of the Realms" crams the Cyber Initiative story arc into a few spectacular scenes. Many of these characters fight together and against each other, giving fans a lot to observe, especially when fighters like Scorpion and Sub-Zero begin using their powers together. But for many, the coolest bit is getting to see Smoke in action, building up the friendship and respect he has for Kuai Liang, and watching the story unfold after his change. It's hard not to wish for more of it, but their mission eventually had to feed into the bigger plot and take the focus off of those incredibly cool ninja characters.

Worst: That ending

"Scorpion's Revenge" had its flaws, but overall it pleased fans and gave them a reason to believe its sequel would deliver the goods. While "Battle of the Realms" might be an adequate follow-up (especially if only considering the first two acts), something about the ending just doesn't sit right. It isn't horrible, but is nowhere near the quality of the rest of the film. The third act is much crazier — which is expected — but feels like it's from a different movie, predominantly because of the two main fights.

The final battle against The One Being has a ton of moving parts, and is on a much grander scale, with godlike powers being thrown around. This makes sense, but it loses a lot of the intensity – not to mention the blood – of the previous encounters, even if the stakes are sky-high. No one can call this anti-climactic; a little boring, perhaps, but there should be some negative points awarded for only having a slightly better version of the ending from "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," with the giant dragon and everything. 

The fight between Liu Kang and Shao Kahn may be worse, however. Some of the moves look like they were lifted directly from "Dragon Ball Z," but without the extra power levels to help it make sense. Both of these encounters needed to stay a bit more grounded to stick the landing.

Best: Solid voice acting

Many of the "Mortal Kombat" characters have found their voices over the lifespan of the series, though the actors who portray them often change. Even if what's coming out of the combatants mouths might seem a little odd, because it is so different from what has been heard in the extensive cutscenes of recent games, none of the voices in either of the two modern animated movies have felt bad enough to stand out. 

So, many of the talents who helped bring the cast to life in "Scorpion's Revenge" returned to play the characters again, which is a testament to how well they did — and a great number of the voice actors fill their parts perfectly, with many of them playing multiple roles.

It's always fun to hear words like Kamidogu and Outworld uttered with such seriousness and precision. Of the newer characters, Emily O'Brien as Jade and Matt Yang King as Kung Lao make a good impression for the brief moments they get to speak, but it won't surprise many that Matthew Mercer steals the scenes he's in, pulling double duty as both Stryker and Smoke. New voices mix well with the old, forming a bloody chorus of grunts and screams that work perfectly for the film.

Worst: They tried to do too much again

Animated features are typically shorter than their live-action counterparts, but "Battle of the Realms" clocks in at right under 90 minutes. It's about nine minutes longer than its predecessor — which again, tried to cram too much into its plot — and here, it's obvious that WB didn't learn from their earlier mistake. The idea of not overstaying your welcome is certainly admirable, but why throw so much into the mix if that's the plan?

There's enough plot here for two feature-length projects, making matters even more  over-stuffed than "Scorpion's Revenge." The champions of Earthrealm going to a "final" tournament in Outworld feels like a plot that easily could have filled 90 minutes — but piled on top of that is all the drama happening within the Lin Kuei and their Cyber Initiative  — Scorpion could also be its own thing, even if Shinnok's involvement was limited. 

It'd be easy to go even further, saving the Kamidogu and The One Being for a follow-up tale when a true final boss was required. However, screenwriter Jeremy Adams implied that the "Mortal Kombat Legends" films were a two-chapter story, meaning they had to put everything in because there might not be others. If true, that is a huge shame, as doing so may have hindered the overall story — and fans would have undoubtedly welcomed further animated films.