Released: 5th April
Seen: 12th April
When it comes to the world of video games, there is no character quite as well-known and iconic as Mario. For 40 years the short Italian with the red hat has been lighting up video game consoles and being the blueprint for an entire genre of games that he still basically runs to this day, and probably will until the universe implodes and we all die. He is such an icon that it’s kind of surprising that there’s only been a single movie made about him and it is, to be charitable, a tortuous trip through 90s consumerist dystopian fiction wrapped in an absurdist nightmare.
It’s a film that people mostly enjoy in the way most cult films are enjoyed, because they’re incredibly strange and mockable and it’s impossible to believe that someone actually made this happen. It’s an adaptation that was so bad that it put an end to the idea of Nintendo games getting made into movies up until the 2019 release of Detective Pikachu proved that they could actually work, leading to Nintendo giving the Mario Brothers one more chance… thank goodness.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie starts with the titular brothers, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) who are just a regular pair of plumbers from Brooklyn trying to make ends meet, while also proving to their dad that their dreams aren’t stupid. One day while doing a job for the city, Mario and Luigi happen upon a large green pipe that sucks them into another world, splitting them up in the process. Luigi ends up in the Dark Lands, a land ruled by Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the Koopas who is planning on going to war with the mushroom kingdom. The mushroom kingdom just happens to be where Mario ends up and he ends up asking for the help of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) to go save his brother. Adventure, naturally, ensues.
Let’s just say what’s already been said all week by millions of people who saw this movie already, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is goddamn incredible on every possible level. Just as an animated film, this is the kind of thing you would hope would be available for kids to enjoy. It’s bright, colourful, full of energy and joy that makes every second incredibly engaging to watch. It has jokes for kids, adults and all those who fit somewhere between those two categories. Fans of the games who know every bit of lore will have so much material to snack on and the three people who have somehow never played a Mario game before in their lives will still have a good time because everything is laid out so clearly that it’s easy to follow.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie smartly understands that because this is based on a video game that should just find a way to transfer video game logic to film, something that might sound simple but this franchise has messed this up once before. Sure enough, this film is full of people getting power-ups, solving platforming puzzles and doing the cinematic versions of the moves that everyone spent hours perfecting as children (seeing a cinematic ground pound is truly something to behold). There’s no attempt to really change the core of the franchise to fit the new medium, no point in justifying it, that’s how this world works and the film just goes with that in a way that’s endlessly enjoyable. Sure it makes no logical sense for a flower to give you the power of fire… except that’s what happens in a Mario game, so that’s what happens here and it works.
The plot is so bare bones simple that it allows the characters more of a chance to really shine. The big surprise is how good Chris Pratt is as Mario, since most fans expect the sound of Charles Martinet to come out of that famous mouth. It was a bit of a shock to hear that this legendary character was getting a new voice but credit where it’s due, Pratt nails it. There’s a warm humorous charm that just works, it’s not too over the top but it’s just enough to work (plus it helps that they give Charles a cameo to provide the voice we know and love). He manages to assuage the audience’s fears in a matter of minutes so it’s easy to just enjoy the movie.
The rest of the main cast absolutely kill it too, Charlie Day making Luigi hilariously terrified, Anya Taylor-Joy turns Peach into an absolute badass who can kick the ass of everyone and basically just brings Mario along for the hell of it and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad only has a small role but makes it sing. The standout of the entire cast, to the shock of literally no one, is Jack Black’s bawdy, bodacious Bowser who just tap dances along the line between terrifying and hilarious, reveling in every dramatic villain speech and fully leaning in to the comedic element of Bowser’s unrequited love for Princess Peach (which is never explained and doesn’t need to be).
Honestly, the only problems here are trivial, mostly to do with the strange reliance on pop music for some of the bigger action scenes. It’s a cliche that a lot of films use and sure enough this film throws Holding Out For A Hero behind a training montage and Thunderstruck under an action scene. Normally this wouldn’t be noteworthy but here it feels especially off balance when the film also uses beautiful orchestral versions of classic Mario music, music that could’ve easily underscored several of these scenes and just made them better, but instead the film goes with the same kinds of choices that a lot of modern animated films go with and suffers because of it. There are also more than a few classic animated film slow-motion jokes that just don’t work here, but again that’s nitpicking and can be easily overlooked thanks to just how much fun everything else is.
It’s clear that The Super Mario Bros. Movie was made with love for the franchise and a desire to give the audience the kind of movie that any fan could enjoy. It’s rich with history and little easter eggs that show a deep understanding while also being just flat out hilarious over and over again. It took them 40 years to get it right but here is Mario’s big movie that the character richly deserves, it’s undeniably fun from start to finish and will have just about everyone jumping for joy.