It’s Game Over for The Super Mario Bros. Movie
I am not the target audience for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. I’ve played a few of the games (namely the first three installments, along with pretty much every iteration of Mario Kart), but I’m hardly an expert. I also haven’t played anything Mario-related in at least a decade, so I’m hardly doing joyous backflips when I watch an animated adventure overflowing with surprises and Easter eggs superfans will go gaga over.
Writer Matthew Fogel (Minions: The Rise of Gru) and directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic — veterans of the massively popular Teen Titans GO! — have gone out of their way to make sure their animated spectacle is aimed directly at kids. It’s colorful and fast-paced, and revels in silly visuals. There are so many jokes per minute that if one or two in a row fall flat, there are a good six or seven more in quick succession trying to pick up the slack. So the 10-and-under set are going to adore this movie whether they’re Mario fans or not — and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.
My reaction? Let’s just say I was not impressed. Jack Black as the voice of Bowser is innocent. As is composer Brian Tyler (Scream VI), who works overtime reconfiguring and expanding on maestro Koji Kondo’s signature Nintendo themes. Anya Taylor-Joy makes a surprisingly good Princess Peach for the most part, and early on, it appears that Keegan-Michael Key is going to make a great Toad — and then the film all but forgets to utilize the character, so that’s disappointing.
But the rest? Yeesh. I get that adapting the games into anything resembling a cohesive narrative would be difficult, but it frequently feels like no one is trying. It’s all a collection of random ideas and nonsensical sequences thrown into a blender and mixed together until the resulting milkshake is nothing more than tasteless sludge. Before the film was halfway through, I could feel a splitting headache coming on. By the time it concluded, said migraine was roughly ten times worse than I feared.
I will say that Fogel’s plot is no worse than your standard 1980s Saturday morning cartoon scenario. A pair of Brooklyn plumbers, brothers Mario (Christ Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), are sucked into a strange green pipe while investigating a mysterious leak deep underneath the city’s sewer system. They are transported to a strange, magical world filled with talking creatures, floating boxes containing bewildering power-ups, and entire civilizations under the threat of annihilation by the all-powerful king of the Koopas, the nefarious fire-breathing Bowser.
Mario teams up with the Mushroom Kingdom’s Princess Peach, there’s a brief fight with Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), and, after investigating a seemingly haunted castle, Luigi ends up being held captive by Bowser. There’s a go-cart battle between the Kongs (along with Peach, Mario, and Toad) and the Koopas on the Rainbow Road, and the final confrontation begins in Bowser’s floating fortress, only to culminate in a different world the games themselves have never (to my knowledge) journeyed to before — one Mario and Luigi are intimately familiar with and eager to defend.
It’s all fairly nuts, and never for a second does anything make a lick of sense. As annoying as that may be, I could live with it if I felt like the majority of the talented vocal cast were attempting to do anything interesting, amusing, or unexpected. But, outside of the aforementioned Black (who is excellent), Taylor-Joy, and Key, this is sadly not the case. Most of the ensemble is overpowered by the perplexing lunacy of the material, and there were times that veterans Pratt, Day, and Rogen — who should be able to knock something this inane out of the comedic park — all sound like they’re monosyllabically reading their lines straight out of a phone book.
Should I even be reviewing The Super Mario Bros. Movie? I do not know the answer. What I can say is that I have always felt that good family-friendly motion pictures — no matter what they are, who they are aimed at, or what source material they are based upon — work for everyone in the audience. The great ones go far beyond that, resonating on multiple levels, with kids and adults alike enjoying themselves immensely, even if for vastly different reasons.
That is not the case here. Kids may have the time of their lives watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie, but for most adults, this is game over, and I have no wish to try and sit through this bit of psychedelic craziness ever again if I can possibly help it.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)