The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Review
Mario, Luigi and their colorful cartoon counterparts return to the silver screen in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
Practically everyone can reference some recollection of who Mario is. His vast mythology has spawned endless sequels and spin-offs across four decades while serving as the flagship figure for Nintendo's dominating run in the video game industry. Whether through dusting off archaic N64 cartridges or immersing in the latest Nintendo Switch technology, I am sure most readers either played some iteration of Mario games or at least know someone who is a devout fan of the character.
As an avid gamer myself, I cannot deny the brand's alluring appeal. The Mario universe features a robust library of titles defined by smooth platforming controls and sparks of imagination. Mario himself is a relatively humble character with his bulky figure and pattened plumber uniform, yet his rustic charms always serve as a personable guide for awe-inspiring adventures.
That said, translating a classic video game character to the big screen is not the easiest assignment. While I can cite a few surprisingly decent video game movies (Sonic the Hedgehog, Rampage, and Monster Hunter come to mind), most are floundering cash grabs that boast little understanding of their source material. Even Mario himself is a victim of this trend, with his cinematic debut in the 1993 Super Mario Bros. film likely still conjuring nightmares for his dedicated fanbase.
The Super Mario Bros. aspires to course-correct its predecessor's failures by adhering closely to the brand's well-established lore. Instead, the film delivers a cynically manufactured outing that is self-satisfied in its lazy pandering to fans.
I struggle to call Super Mario Bros. an actual movie. In the hands of animation studio Illumination, the creators of the Despicable Me franchise, Mario and his pals find themselves stranded in a never-ending commercial sifting through "remember this from the video game?" moments.
The script is as paper-thin as it gets. I credit screenwriter Matthew Fogel for showcasing some understanding of the Mario universe, packing his narrative to the brim with clever easter eggs and well-known iconography. Unfortunately, Fogel's efforts rest solely on these homages. References should be a light appetizer to the story, not the whole narrative entree. The bombardment of zany jokes and noisy setpieces serves as an unsuccessful distraction that fails to mask the napkin sketch of a movie.
In terms of narrative, there is no foundation to be found across the film's breathless 93-minute runtime. Fogel's work relies exclusively upon the viewer's pre-established attachment to draw interest, whether its half-hearted attempts to showcase Mario and Luigi's brotherly rapport or an effort to incorporate classic side characters, like Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Bowser and Toad. This approach leaves the ensemble feeling like an impersonal imitation of their pixelated counterparts.
The lack of effort is also felt in the voice-over performances. Some actors, like Jack Black as villainous Bowser and Charlie Day as high-strung Luigi, impart enough exuberance to bring their storied characters to life. Other actors lack commitment. Seth Rogen, Anya Taylor Joy and Chris Pratt deliver unenthused performances that do not play into animation's heightened emotionality. Pratt is especially forgettable as Mario, showcasing an inconsistent accent that never truly sells the character's persona.
I can already hear some readers saying, "Matt, it's just a kids' film." I do not deny that distinction, but I would argue it is a cheap way to make excuses for an uninspired effort. Last year alone saw the release of several family films, like The Bad Guys, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Turning Red, and Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, that elevated their straightforward stories through their ingenious creative visions. In contrast, The Super Mario Bros. Movie makes no effort to achieve above the standards of a factory-assembled product. Even the animation, which does a decent job capturing the Mario universe and its likeness, lacks the inventive flourishes of its superior animated counterparts.
I would not call The Super Mario Bros. Movie a horrendous film - it's just a profoundly uninspired one. The competent animation, ample references and sheer busyness on display could provide a decent distraction for some fans. Still, I doubt anyone will remember the movie long after the credits roll.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is now playing in theaters.