Film Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

By Matthew Moorcroft

Weak Recommendation

  • Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
  • Starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black
  • PG

Every year when there is a bunch of video game adaptations coming out, we always tend to say “this is the year video game movies explode” and it never happens. The long elusive medium has been a bone in the movie industry’s side ever since 1993 when Super Mario Bros. was infamously adapted for the first time and fell flat on it’s face, and studios have been trying to pick up the pieces ever since. Some have been successful – the Mortal Kombat films and Resident Evil films maintained a strong, if somewhat under the radar, presence money wise – but it wasn’t until the past 8 years or so that studios have really stepped up to the game again (both literally and metaphorically) to try and do this right.

And after the Sonic films, Arcane, and The Last of Us managed to impress much more heavily then expected, Mario has returned back to the plate for another go, this time as a big budget animated film courtesy of Illumination and Nintendo themselves. It has a ton to prove, and it certainly feels confident about itself – so confident in fact that it basically opens up with Nintendo proudly giving it their stamp of approval. Yes, this indeed is the film they want to represent their brand with.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is fine. It’s perfectly serviceable. In fact, it’s probably even a little bit more then fine if you put a gun to my head, as it’s infectious charms are enough to give even the most hard-hearted of people at least a little bit of a smile. It’s the kind of film that’s meant to appeal to the smallest of small kids, the youngest possible demographic without sacrificing the adult audience in the crowd thanks to a couple of smartly placed jokes aimed at the older crowd and game references that kids will surely miss.

And unfournately, that’s really it. While Mario certainly has tons of style and craft to spare in it’s actual production values – this thing is absolutely gorgeous at points – it’s pretty clear most of the effort went into making sure that yes, this thing looks like Mario, you are watching a Mario movie, this is about Mario, did you forget this about Mario? And while this will be enough for some people, when even the Sonic films are actually allowing some depth to their films in spite of being aimed at families that just isn’t enough anymore.

And having a simple story is fine! And Mario’s story is wonderfully simple on paper, as per fitting of the games. Bowser has come to the Mushroom Kingdom in hopes of marrying Peach and gaining control of the world, and Mario must overcome his weaknesses to stop him. It’s a pretty clear cut case of “less is more”, but maybe could have used even a little bit here. The film flirts with ideas and emotional beats but never really commits to them, instead wanting to rush to the next big setpiece in case the kids get bored. Brian Tyler’s bouncy, engaging score is the winner in these moments, taking Koji Kondo’s iconic tracks from the series and remixing them into a grand orchestral barrage that’s one of the best soundtracks of his career – a genuine highlight of the film.

It’s this thin script that makes the controversial voice cast actually the least of the film’s worries. In fact, the majority of them fit into their characters shockingly well, which is likely Nintendo’s doing. Jack Black is the clear standout as per expected, and Keegan Michael-Key is also in top notch form here, but it’s actually Chris Pratt of all people who ends up really solid in the lead role. You would think that would be a miscast for the ages, but he inbues Mario with an optimistic, likable attitude and even manages to pull off the Mario-isms in pretty damn good ways. Charlie Day is also solid to boot, if underused, making the Bros. part of the title feel bit a like a misnomer. It’s unfournately Anya Taylor-Joy and Seth Rogen who end up being the two more bland cast members, who aren’t bad but merely serviceable, clearly viewing this as a paycheck job more then anything else (though Rogen gets a couple of solid lines here and there).

In the end though, I think the Mario movie succeeds on what it’s trying to do. It’s a good time, and as a Mario fan I left the theater smiling even if I’ll likely forget about it in a day or two. You don’t need me to recommend it as it’s very likely going to make an absolute crap ton of money at the box office and will spawn an entire universe of Nintendo adaptations, and that’s very likely going to be enough for some. As for me, I’m hoping the sequel has a little bit more meat on it’s bones.

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