Ever since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo brought the famously adventuresome plumbing brothers to life on the big screen in 1983’s Super Mario Bros, the canon of computer game adaptations has been a race to plumb the depths. Sure, there have been a few super-popular efforts along the way, most notably the Milla Jovovich-led Resident Evil series. But most commit the cardinal crime of taking themselves way too seriously to be any fun.
At first, it seems this is the fate of the latest take on bloody bone-crunching beat ‘em up series Mortal Kombat. Earth’s mightiest champions are assembled (and magically tattooed) to smack down with baddies from a nether realm of Outworld for reasons that aren't immediately clear, beyond the fact that no one likes being invaded.
The problem is, Lewis Tan’s cardboard hero Cole (new to the game lore) is deathly dull. As are the rest of the amorphous blob of goodies, including United States Special Forces soldiers Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). A seventeenth century backstory involving the timeless feud of Japanese ninja warriror Scorpion (a squandered Hiroyuki Sanada) and his eternal enemy from a rival clan, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim, inheriting the only character to appear in all Mortal Kombat games to date) is also blah.
As far as Sub-Zero’s fellow nasties go, blink and you’ll miss them. Though the sub-The Scorpion King CGI deployed on four-armed Goro is worth a laugh, if inadvertently. Does it really matter if character development/plot is non-existent? Not if the fight sequences are out of this world. Sadly they’re not. If you’ve come here for the signature spinal cord extrication move, you’ll leave sorely disappointed.
The film does throw us a bone in the totally random appearance of Australian actor and sometimes director Josh Lawson. More closely associated with comedy of the romantic kind, he’s a surreal inclusion as growling mercenary Kano, and the only one with the wherewithal to treat the film with the seriousness it deserves: none. Leaning all into a foul-mouthed Aussie stereotype, he’s an absolute hoot that makes Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine seem terribly polite. He almost single-handedly saves the show from the slow death of boredom. It’s just about enough to make this worthwhile, but you can’t help but wish the rest of the film was having as much fun as he is. Then that really would be a ‘flawless victory’.