The Other Side of Animation 185: Mortal Kombat Legends – Scorpion’s Revenge Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, you would think I would tackle more video game adaptions in animation. Granted, the track record of good video game properties adapted to the world of animation is as shoddy as live-action attempts, but at the very least, animation takes away a lot of the limitations you get doing it in live-action. People in the entertainment industry might look down on animation for no reason, but with animation, while you may have to make everything by hand, it is not bound by physical limitations. The visual arts is a world with no boundaries, besides the ones you put on yourself. I mean, there is also time, money, manpower, but that’s beside the point. Today, we are taking a look at the newest film from the notoriously hyper-violent franchise, Mortal Kombat.

Today’s film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, was directed by Ethan Spaulding and animated by Studio Mir. As mentioned above, it’s the newest film in the franchise since the disastrous Mortal Kombat Annihilation. Scorpion’s Revenge was released April 28th of this year to mostly positive reviews. So, do we have another video game disaster or do we have another video game hopeful? Well, let’s get over here and find out!

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So, the story revolves around Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion, voiced by Patrick Seitz. He’s on a mission to go after Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero, voiced by Steve Blum, who murdered his entire clan and family. After being sent to hell and making a deal with Quan Chi, voiced by Darin De Paul, Scorpion sets out to take down Sub-Zero, who will be attending an otherworldly fighting tournament hosted by Shang Tsung, voiced by Artt Butler. However, despite the film being called Scorpion’s Revenge, we also follow the story of three human fighters; Liu Kang, voiced by Jordan Rodriguez, Sonya Blade, voiced by Jennifer Carpenter, and Johnny Cage, voiced by Joel McHale. The three humans were chosen by the thunder god Raiden, voiced by Dave B Mitchell. Can Scorpion get his revenge, and can the humans save their realm from being taken over?

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So, let’s talk about the title of the film. Listen, I get it. Scorpion is pretty much the face of Mortal Kombat. However, the film is not really about him. Or at the very least, it’s not 100% about him. It’s one part Scorpion story, one part generic Mortal Kombat story, and one part universe starter. At first, the story focuses on him, but then the film also decides that it wants to be a franchise starter for a Mortal Kombat cinematic universe, so it has the three human leads who are unfortunately not all that interesting. It’s frustrating because while Scorpion is in the title and is what the film should focus on, Johnny Cage gets more of a focused storyline. Scorpion gets side-lined in his own movie. How much of the film is Scorpion in? Mostly, in the beginning, he vanishes for most of the middle part, and then stays in the third act. Because of this, the film has a real pacing issue throughout. The film spends a lot of time playing out like a normal MK storyline with the tournament, but then shuffles between the main characters, the villains, and shoving in cameos and fanservice appearances of certain characters. It even drops a plot twist 10 minutes before the film ends that lands like a lead balloon. It’s a real lopsided story, and it’s a shame because I do like the story when it actually follows Scorpion, and Johnny Cage, who, while annoying, was the most entertaining character in the film. It’s just a disappointment that this film isn’t really a Scorpion movie. There is a good story hidden in here. Even if it’s a typical revenge plot, this movie had more effort put into it than Annihilation did. Sadly, the focus went into the same mindset that the 2017 The Mummy went into, not to tell a single story, but to set up a bunch. This movie should be renamed Mortal Kombat Universe Pilot.

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The animation is where I also have some mixed feelings. It’s quite obvious that they went with an entirely different art style than trying to copy the style used in the major DC-animated features that WB puts out every year. The designs are more striking, and the characters look great. Sadly, this is a direct-to-video film under the Warner Animation Group collective. That means that while it’s nowhere near as bad looking as that 40-minute promo video that was made to promote the first film, it still suffers from having animation quality that’s basically on par with the DC TV series. Some scenes look fine, and then you can tell when they drop the frames of movements. However, with all that said, this film has some of the more striking visuals, and a lot of the gore and violence you play the games for. Mortal Kombat can have more story and more depth to their characters, but if you don’t have the gore, then what’s the point? I did like the action sequences that decided to have a little more money thrown into them because the action in this film is pretty stellar. I mean, it’s a film with martial arts and magic. If you fail at that, then what on earth are you doing? It’s like making lasagna without the creamy cheese, there is no point to it. I could complain about the film, but it nails the visuals. In terms of voice work, it’s good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and they probably could have gotten someone other than Joel McHale, but the actors put in solid performances. You have people like Patrick Seitz, Kevin Michael Richardson, the always delightful Steve Blum, Grey Delisle, Dave B. Mitchell, Robin Atkin Downes, Jennifer Carpenter, Jordan Rodrigues, Ike Amadi, and Fred Tatasciore.

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This was a rough review to write. Not because the film was astronomically bad or a masterpiece that I was having trouble putting into words. It’s because this movie is okay. It’s probably the most okay movie of 2020. If it didn’t have the stellar action, the distinct visual style, and the gore, it would have probably been a decent if somewhat forgettable action film. It’s the second-best Mortal Kombat film, and so far, against what else is coming out, the best action film in the animation scene this year so far. I just hope this film did well enough to get a sequel, because the film itself leaves so much open for sequels that it isn’t funny. Honestly, if this film flops, then you wasted so many characters by focusing on the future film, and not the film you are currently making. Well, before I can get into the newest DC/WB animated feature that might cap off the entire storyline of the current animated film universe, let’s dive into another WB-focused film and hopeful universe starter with the newly released SCOOB!

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 176: Ni No Kuni Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it’s 2020. The start of the New Year, a new decade, and I want to focus on the feature-length animation side of things. This year is going to be wild because we have mostly original animated films coming out. I am always hopeful that what looks great turns out to be great, and films that might be bad eggs to be, well, not bad eggs. I’m always going to be like this going into every animated film no matter the situation, but sometimes, the walk down the yellow-brick road will lead to disappointing films. This where we are with the newest Netflix animation purchase, Ni No Kuni.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, written by Akihiro Hino, based on the popular video game franchise, animated by Oriental Light and Magic (the same studio that animates the Pokémon anime and film series), and put out by Netflix here in the US, is our first major animated film. I was surprised by the sudden release of Ni No Kuni because once it was released in Japan last year, there was barely any news about it. No box office reports, and barely any reviews. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why. Why? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around three young teens named Yusuke Ninomiya, dubbed by Max Mittelman, Haruto Ichihara, dubbed by Alejandro Saab, and Kotona Takashina, dubbed by Abby Trott. They are best friends, even though some tension is there with Yusuke being confined to a wheelchair. One day, Kotona calls both Yusuke and Haruto because she’s being chased by a shadowy and creepy looking individual. The two boys save her, but were too late to prevent her from getting stabbed. As they try to take her to a hospital to get better, they almost get hit crossing a crosswalk. Luckily, instead of dying, Yusuke and Haruto get warped to a magical world known as Ni No Kuni. The two boys try to find their friend, and discover that this magical world runs parallel with their real world, and that every person in both worlds has a version of themselves. They find out that their friend Kotona who was hurt is the princess in the magical world. They also realize that if something happens in this magical world, it affects their world as well. Can the two find out how to make it back and solve the crisis of who attacked the princess and their friend?

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On paper, this movie looks like a fantasy feature that would offer something complex with its theme of what are you willing to do for the people you love. Unfortunately, the biggest downside to this film is the story and writing. The film is not based on either the first or second game, and I like that it tries its own story, but it’s too basic. The characters don’t evolve beyond their character traits, the side characters aren’t interesting, and the villain is boring. The drama of the two male leads should be strong enough to carry the film, but it’s not. It’s even more disappointing when the female lead is then relegated to the damsel in distress. This is bad, because the female leads in the first two games are great and active characters. Also, don’t be going in thinking the mystery of who tried to kill the two women to be captivating or something on the level of Knives Out. If you know anything about anime character designs, then you know who’s going to be the bad guy. The last-minute twists in the film are also so lazily integrated that I rolled my eyes when they happened.

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So, the script plays it safe, but what about the animation? Well, it looks like a Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc film, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to look as good as films from those studios. Like I said above, it’s animated by the people who do the Pokémon series and films, and it looks as good as some of their regular films, but at this point, you are wanting to see all of the little details that come with seeing a Ghibli or Ponoc film. You take it for granted, because while it’s not badly animated, it has nothing that I would say looks grand or theatrical. It also has CGI that doesn’t blend well. It doesn’t take full advantage of its setting, and that drags the experience down. What about the film’s voice work? Well, it’s not bad, and it at least tries to match the European/British tone of the two games. You have a solid cast including Max Mittelman, Alejandro Saab, Abby Trott, Patrick Seitz, Erica Lindbeck, Armen Taylor, Robbie Daymond, John DeMita, Spike Spencer, Wendee Lee, Kyle Hebert, Derek Stephen Prince, Kirk Thorton, Ray Chase, and others. Joe Hisaishi returns to compose the music, and it’s fine. Maybe it’s more of the Ghibli bias in me, or it’s the fact that another recent film he worked on, Children of the Sea had a much better soundtrack, but Ni No Kuni‘s usually iconic sound was not here. I think I liked one of the songs, and that’s it.

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I still stand by my opening statement that I go into every film hoping for the best. Sometimes I end up enjoying the film, and sometimes, I don’t. It helps that I also go in with a mid-level hype for every film because then, I don’t judge the film too harshly if they didn’t reach my impossible sky-high standards. Sadly, not every film can be a hit, and while I don’t think Ni No Kuni will be one of the worst animated films I have seen, it will be one of the most disappointing. I can now see why Netflix sort of buried the release of Ni No Kuni, and why most of the reviews were fairly mixed to negative. It had all of the elements to be a great film, but due to a bad script and weak story, the film falls flat. Check it out if you are curious, but there is no rush to watch Ni No Kuni. Now then, I think it’s time to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s newest film, Ride Your Wave.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it (It’s on Netflix, but still)

The Other Side of Animation 139: Summer Wars Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

A fun part about tackling animated films is that you get to go through the director’s entire history of work, and see when certain parts of their craftsmanship start to pop up. That’s the entertaining part to watch an artist evolve. For example, today’s review will be a film that I think truly showed the colors of the creator, Summer Wars. Yes, we are dipping back into the filmography of Mamoru Hosoda with his second film after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It was released back in 2009 in Japan, but came over to the states in 2010. While he has done film and anime projects before Summer Wars, to me, it’s the film that encapsulates a lot of the details that Hosoda would use in his future films. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a teen male named Kenji Koiso, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He’s a math-savvy teen, who helps moderate part of this massive online world known as Oz, where you can do anything from socialize, play games, and even use it for real business. While working alongside his friend, Kenji ends up taking an offer from a female student named Natsuki Shinohara, dubbed by Brina Palencia. She asks Kenji to come with her to this huge family summer get-together to celebrate the 90th birthday of her grandmother. The catch is that he has to be her boyfriend/soon-to-be husband to impress her grandmother. Unfortunately, while meeting the large family of rather likable individuals, a virus gets loose into Oz, and causes massive world-wide chaos, and the virus plans to launch powerful missiles on power plants to cause widespread destruction. This is on top of also having to deal with the family drama of an illegitimate grandson, who may be behind the virus. Can Kenji balance this all out?

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room with this film. No, it’s not the fact that the script does has some choice words bashing the US, nor is it it the fact that, at first, the female lead is kind of terrible, because if a guy did what she did with forcing him to go along for a huge charade, the world would have rioted. It’s the fact that Mamoru Hosoda, in all of his infinite wisdom, basically remade an earlier work of his that was essentially the infamous Digimon Movie. Or, if we want to be more specific, one of the Digimon specials he directed. Yeah, it’s hard not to see Hosoda simply taking a bunch of the plot elements, like the virus, the nukes, and the bunny fixation in this film. The world of Oz looks like how the internet looks in the Digimon Movie, with the blank white open space and gears/Ferris wheel motif. It’s like he took a look at the reviews and ridicule the Digimon Movie got because of how Fox cut it up, and decided to give the middle finger to the US release of his work, and made it better. It’s not a major negative, but it’s a negative none the less.

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Like I said above, while she becomes more endearing as the film goes on, I found Natsuki to be annoying. Instead of just bringing Kenji to her family celebration, she forces him to lie to her family on a rather large scale, and then doesn’t get why the family doesn’t like this one illegitimate grandson. I can understand if this is how teens are, and I get not wanting to worry your grandparents about your future. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of cultural aspects of her reasons behind her actions, but it took a bit for me to warm up to her. She becomes more endearing when time goes on, but you have to stick with it. It just seems like if this was a role reversal, people would be calling this out more. While I love the family that this film focuses on, they aren’t all fully fleshed out. I don’t remember half of their names, and some of them are just annoying and don’t interact with the others to be aware of what’s going on. At two separate points, three family members cause the situation to get worse. Sure, you can write it off as two of them being obnoxious kids, but one of them is a police officer, and he doesn’t talk to the family members that are trying to take down the evil virus that could kill them? Like, it’s not a plot hole, but it seems like lazy writing.

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I know it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, but I do really love it. I have a lot of positives to say about it. As usual with Hosoda’s animation, it’s beautifully crafted, grounded, and the designs are all super appealing to look at. The online world also gives the film a good excuse to make fun avatar designs that I think fit each person in the film perfectly. This is also a major point of where we can see his amazing eye for up-close combat. The fighting in this film is gorgeous, with fluid and realistic movements. It gets a bit more absurd when you enter the online world, but it still doesn’t negate the force you feel from the punches and kicks. While you are technically watching a bunch of people sit around and look at a bunch of screens, you are still kept invested with what’s going on online and offline. It’s fairly nice to see a film that’s about technology not be an anti-internet or anti-technology message that anime unfortunately loves to do. Listen, technology has made some pretty horrible things, and made gateways for toxic and horrible people to spread their toxic roots all over the world. However, technology has also done wonders, and has connected us in many ways. It’s not just one-sided, in terms of tackling the commentary about Oz and its use by most people around the world. I also liked the dub cast. While the original Japanese version used accurately aged actors to voice their animated counterparts, and you lose that when Funimation uses a bunch of adults for everything, I still like the English dub. As usual, to play every moody male teen these days, you have Michael Sinterniklaas, and a slew of other incredible talents, like Mike McFarland, Patrick Seitz, Christopher Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Caitlin Glass, John Swasey, and many more. To me, this was the film where Hosoda started to really use his family motif in his films. While you might not remember everyone’s name, the characters truly feel like a family.

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It’s not Hosoda’s best film, and it probably apes too much off of his previous work for its own good, Summer Wars is still a visually stunning, heartfelt, and entertaining movie about technology and family. While there is a normal version of this film available from Funimation, they recently made a special edition for Hosoda’s other films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, up to The Boy and the Beast. If you haven’t picked up this wonderful film already, I recommend picking up that special version. This just makes me super excited for Hosoda’s new film, Mirai coming out this year. Now then, we are onto the next review, and we will be tackling what might be China’s most ambitious, visually pretty, and busiest animated feature. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!