The Super Mario Bros. Movie review (2023)

The story is a bit silly and generic, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie beautifully and faithfully adapts the video games with visually breathtaking animation that looks like the games, incorporates game-accurate platforming, action, and items, and most of the performances do justice to the beloved characters.

Say what you will about video game film/series adaptations as of late, but there was something different about this one. The Super Mario series is one that’s deeply personal to me because of my passion for gaming and all the years I’ve spent playing this beloved franchise. In many ways, it’s my introduction to gaming and as far back as I can remember, it’s the one series I’ll always remember playing first, regardless of whether that’s true or not since I don’t recall playing anything else before this. Mario is the face of the video game space and still is, even 40 years later. It’s crazy to me since the first live-action film, Super Mario Bros. (1993), is downright awful, and I believe that’s universally agreed upon. In fact, it’s so bad, Nintendo never trusted anyone else with its IPs ever again. I attribute its terribleness to the long-reigning curse of poorly-made video game adaptations for so many years, but now, especially as of late, I think it’s safe to say we’re in a time in cinema and TV/streaming where the curse is broken, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the latest indication of that.

I had my reservations about The Super Mario Bros. Movie leading up to its release. None of my worries related to the casting choices compared to most people (yes, I’m referring to you Chris Pratt haters), but rather the studio involved. Don’t get me wrong, I think Illumination has done some fantastic work, at least with its gorgeous animation and fun, memorable characters, but I’ve always found some of the stories to be a bit generic and shallow. Then again, you have to consider these movies are mostly being made for a specific audience, which is children. But, we’re talking about a Mario movie, which we all know a generation of people who are now 25 years old or older, are going to be flocking to theaters to watch this, so it isn’t only just for children. In fact, the selfish part of me will even go and say this movie is for those gamers who have been playing this since the ’80s. But, the truth is, this is a film for everyone. To get back on topic however, some of my worries did end up being proven right since I found the plot of this film to be pretty bland at times. Granted, for the sake of accurately establishing this world (which it does remarkably well, but I’ll get into that later), the narrative may have taken a backseat, but I can’t say I’m not slightly disappointed with how it was handled. The story isn’t completely unengaging on an emotional level, but I was expecting something a bit more thought-provoking. We live in an era where we have animated films from other studios, such as Pixar, Sony Pictures, DreamWorks, etc., and most of these films tell mature and thought-provoking stories about humanity, current societal events, and even some dark, borderline depressing stories about life while still appealing to viewers of all ages, including the target audience of this film, children. Instead, most of this story isn’t as ambitious or as smart as I hoped. I think the writing could use a bit more effort. It could be my inevitable nitpicking though since the games were never really about the story, but about the characters, the worlds you explore, and how the game is played. In that regard, there’s no denying the Super Mario Bros. series reigns supreme, and the films, in my opinion, captures it to near perfection.

The characters do fall victim to silly dialogue, cringe-worthy one-liners and phrases, and line delivery that doesn’t always land, but I really enjoyed most of them. The characters designs are beautifully crafted and I honestly have no complaints about how any of the characters look. Simply put, it’s a massive well-done for all of the animators involved. It’s time to put the controversy to rest about Chris Pratt not being right for this role. After seeing the movie, I can’t really think of many others who would’ve been a better fit. I’m sure there are, but this is just to say Pratt was more than worthy of taking on this precious character and doing it justice. He makes the character his own while still incorporating the vintage Mario charm and familiar catchphrases everyone knows. My favorite aspect about Mario is how the film went about portraying him. He’s your typical blue-collar worker who’s trying to make an honest living, but is constantly dealing with people, both everyday common folk and his own family, being unsupportive of his dreams. But, he never gives up and, as cliché as it may sound, when he gets knocked down, he gets back up. His brother, Luigi, voiced by Charlie Day, who is also fantastic in the role, is someone who shares a similar work ethic, even if he’s obviously the clumsier, nervous and overly anxious one of the two. Their brotherly relationship is incredibly wholesome, and the film displays this in a way none of the games ever did. Seeing their bond and loyalty to each other is truly heartwarming, and I wish we would’ve gotten more of it, especially more of Luigi overall, but I’m hopeful future sequels will touch more on their relationship (give me a Luigi’s Mansion film!). It’s, unquestionably, the foundation of this story.

Bowser (Jack Black), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) are other bright spots in the movie. It’s obvious Black was the one who was trying the most to be like the character and it pays off in more ways than one. There are definitely layers to Bowser only Black would be able to portray and do so convincingly. He’s the personification of evil and menacing when he needs to be, but somehow, he’s also a bit silly and maybe misunderstood, all at once. This is how I always thought him to be in the games, and the movie showcases this in impressive fashion. I really dug what Key did with Toad’s character here as well. As a whole, the movie definitely gives him more to do since he’s always been somewhat of a side/support character, and I’m glad he’s able to shine here since I’ve always been a fan. Rogen’s Donkey Kong was simply bananas (pun intended) in all the right ways and I’m glad we got as much of him as we did. I’m definitely manifesting a Donkey Kong Country film in the future as well. Just give us the Nintendo Cinematic Universe! As for everyone else, I think they were just fine, but maybe could’ve been better in other hands. For example, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Princess Peach sounded a bit uninspired. I mean, I enjoyed the route they decided to go with her character, but to me, at times, it seemed Joy didn’t even want to be there. I always saw Peach as a character with a bright and bubbly personality, and Joy didn’t do that for me. Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong was just weird casting to me. Cranky Kong didn’t really come off, well, Cranky to me, and I think someone else could’ve done a more proper job. I don’t really have much complaints about Kevin Michael Richardson’s Kamek or Khary Payton’s the Penguin King, but I wish we would’ve gotten more of them.

The world of the Super Mario Bros. series is fully realized and established in this film, not only with the locations, but also with the backstory of the Mario and Luigi. As mentioned, they’re plumbers trying to get their business off the ground, but you also get a glimpse of their family, which is something I wasn’t quite expecting and, to my knowledge, is never in the games. It’s a nice little addition to add a bit more emotional weight to it all. As for the world(s), it’s simply stunning. How everything looks is such a love letter to the series and you can tell Shigeru Miyamoto was aggressively involved since he wasn’t going to let anyone mess this up. I mean, Mushroom Kingdom is literally ripped straight from the game, but it also has different aspects and details you don’t always see in the game, such as the city and all its inhabitants, and even the origins and explanations for some things. For instance, the item blocks, the power-ups (Red and Blue mushrooms, the fire flower), the different suits (Cat Suit Mario is GOATed), and all the different locations (Princess Peach’s castle, the Jungle Kingdom, the Dark Lands, Rainbow Road); none of this feels like it’s there just to be there. Everything feels like it has a purpose and explanation in that universe. Then there’s the inclusion of the platforming, which is what makes Mario what it is. Seeing how the characters run, jump, fight, and traverse different obstacles is expertly adapted from the game to the big screen. Don’t even get me started on the karts! I literally have nothing negative to say about how it all comes to life here and, as a fan, I couldn’t be more ecstatic. There’s definitely fan service, and for the sake of spoilers, I won’t go into much detail, but, to me, it never felt forced or shoe-horned in. In reality, it feels more like a genuine love and appreciation for the games, and that’s proper fan service at its finest.

My favorite aspect, by far, is the music, and that being Brian Tyler’s score. It’s a perfect mix of the original tunes composed by Koji Kondo with Tyler’s own musical flair, and it really adds to every single scene. What I didn’t really enjoy is the old ’80s songs being added in, which is yet another annoying Illumination trope. Is nothing sacred at this point? There could’ve been so many other songs and sounds they could’ve used from the games to add into those scenes instead. Regardless, the score is phenomenal and I was definitely getting into the nostalgic feels in some scenes. It’s one of the most recognizable sounds and seeing it being utilized this masterfully brings me joy.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a worthy adaptation of the video games, regardless of the negative tropes, and there’s so much potential for more. With that post-credits scene, it’s all but confirmed there’s more coming, but as a fan of this series and Nintendo properties in general, I’m ready for it all. Give me The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, Metroid, F-Zero, Pikmin; give me ALL the adaptations. Maybe I’m getting a bit too excited and ahead of myself, so let’s just enjoy what we currently have. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about the potential of it all, though. If you’re a fan of the series, I think you’re in for a fun, adventurous time, which is what Mario is all about.

Score: 8.5/10


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