It’s been 42 years coming — not counting the Bob Hoskins/John Leguizamo disaster 30 years ago — and The Super Mario Bros. Movie is finally here! Featuring jaw-dropping animation, but a lackluster screenplay, this theatrical iteration may give us a more faithful adaptation of a Mario Bros. movie, but directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic — along with writer Matthew Fogel — never find a way to deliver a worthwhile story.
With Universal Pictures handing the keys of the Mushroom Kingdom to Christopher Meledandri’s Illumination, you know exactly what you’re getting. There’s a certain safeness to Illumination films and this is no different. When the jokes manage to hit, they do hit hard, unfortunately, they’re way too few and far between. The second coming of The Lego Movie this is not.
Should Universal have turned Dreamworks loose on the project, maybe it would have been a bigger success. As it stands, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is too little too late — with a plot as thin as the track in Ice Land — and only leaves you wishing you were home playing the games instead.
Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) just spent their life savings on a commercial for their new plumbing company. Destiny comes calling when the chance to save Brooklyn from a water main break leads them to a magic pipe that transports Mario to the Mushroom Kingdom, while Luigi winds up in The Dark Lands and taken captive by Bowser (voiced by Jack Black) who wants to take over the Mushroom Kingdom and force Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) to marry him.
Faster than you can say “mama mia,” Mario must learn the power of the 1-Ups and join forces with Princess Peach, Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), and the Kong army — lead by Cranky Kong (voiced by Fred Armisen) and his son, Donkey (voiced by Seth Rogen) — to save the Mushroom Kingdom, Luigi, and find a way back to Brooklyn.
Kids may find themselves entertained by the slapstick, pretty colors, and seeing their favorite video game characters brought to life, but the nostalgia never kicks in for adults because we still have most of these gaming platforms sitting at home. I’m not even a gamer, but I still have a Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Super Nintendo, and Wii that gets used constantly.
What it really comes down to is how bad you want to spend the time and money to gather the family up, pay for tickets, engorge on overpriced — if delicious — popcorn, when you can always just plop down on the couch and play a game of “Mario Kart” with each other instead.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad — Black’s Bowser is fun, if underused and Rogen is hilarious as Donkey Kong — it will make a great streaming option once it lands on Peacock. But even at a scant 92 minutes — including two end credits scenes — the pacing much to be desired. Scattershot and episodic, if you were thinking The Super Mario Bros. Movie looks more like a feature length pilot to launch a Nintendo Cinematic Universe, you’d be absolutely correct.