The lore of Super Mario just does not withstand any scrutiny. The famous now-40-year-old video game character is one of the most recognizable icons in modern history, but if we were to study (or, heaven forbid, question) any one piece of his mythology, the entire enterprise falls apart. This is a fundamental problem when trying to make a workable movie. Nevertheless, it’s-a here: directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
For this iteration, Mario and his brother Luigi (voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, respectively) appear as they do in the games, but they’re plumbers in Brooklyn trying to start their new business (it’s not going well). After another pipe-related mishap, they end up in the Mushroom Kingdom—lost, confused, and threatened by Bowser (Jack Black, who obviously understood the assignment). Naturally, after re-orienting himself, Mario embraces the quest to save himself, his brother, and the entire kingdom, with the help of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy, phoning in) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen, sure why not). As written by Matthew Fogel, that’s the extent of the film’s narrative, with some half-hearted attempts at emotional resonance—and a huge dose of nostalgia. With its vibrant colour scheme and classic music cues, it’s not impossible to smile at some of the audio-visual elements of the film. (The appearance of a nihilistic Lumalee is also pretty funny.) But even the most thoughtful cinematic adaptation of Super Mario—which, again, is not really achievable—would struggle to stick the landing in such a nonsensical world. And this attempt is not that; it’s a lazy film at best.
So then, what to do with The Super Mario Bros. Movie? To be charitable, we can grade it on a curve, considering who could conceivably be part of its target audience: kids. Will the 8-year-old in your life enjoy this film? Yes, perhaps. It’s short, punchy, and not too taxing. But if you want my advice, invest in the games instead. Super Mario World still holds up.