“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”: A Review

Is there a single character in video game history more recognizable than Mario? This Italian, overall-clad plumber has been a pop culture staple for nearly 40 years, bringing 8-bit joy to children and adults alike across the globe for generations. The Mario Bros. games are deceptively simple– stomp enemies, collect coins, save the princess – but there’s a unique charm to the candy-colored world of the Mushroom Kingdom. Time has proven the mass appeal of these simple platformers, and a movie adaptation of this beloved franchise should’ve been an easy slam dunk for both Nintendo and Illumination. 

In many ways, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a success; the filmmakers behind this project clearly understand the deep layers of nostalgia associated with Mario, and there’s an incredible attention to detail in every frame of this film, as well as some spectacular action sequences that place the viewer right in the game. The animation is stunning, too, and seeing this famous world on the big screen in such extraordinary color is an incredible experience. In other words, if you love Super Mario Bros., it will be a near impossible task to not have some fun with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. And yet, it’s difficult for me to not feel disappointed with this film. It’s certainly entertaining, yes, but there are fundamental flaws to the story that hold The Super Mario Bros. Movie back from achieving anything beyond a fun, yet forgettable hour and a half.

The first 15 minutes of the film were delightful. When we are first introduced to the titular Mario brothers, they’re working as two down-on-their-luck plumbers in Brooklyn. Mario (Chris Pratt, who is… just fine here) is overly protective of his younger brother, Luigi (It’s Always Sunny’s Charlie Day), and feels responsible for both of their failures in life. In an attempt to keep their failing business afloat, Mario and Luigi head into the sewers to try and fix a burst pipe flooding their city streets. While underground, they stumble upon a suspiciously green pipe, and the two are quickly sucked out of their world and into the Mushroom Kingdom.

The setup here is promising, but immediately upon arrival in the video game’s iconic setting, the movie blasts into lightspeed. The lighthearted, easygoing feel of the opening scenes is replaced with a frenetic, breathless pace, with the film throwing as many recognizable characters, landscapes, and video game easter eggs it possibly can at the audience. And while these references are all enjoyable and never feel forced, The Super Mario Bros. Movie loses any semblance of a meaningful story and characters in its place. The purpose of adapting a videogame into a feature film would be to expand upon the story provided by the original games, and yet we are given nearly no new information about the world of Mario. Where does this alternate dimension come from? Doesn’t matter. Why are there question blocks and power-ups everywhere? Not important. What is Bowser, and why does he control an army of turtles and talking mushrooms? Who cares! The film is so busy jumping from action set piece to action set piece that it lacks any context or moments of development between its characters, and as a result, the film feels empty. The previously-mentioned action set pieces are all highly enjoyable, yes, but the complete focus on spectacle makes The Super Mario Bros. Movie feel less like an actual movie and more like, well, a video game.

The undisputed highlight of the film is Bowser. Jack Black’s electric vocal performance as the infamous turtle-monster breathes life into the film, bringing some genuine laughs to an otherwise laughless movie. The rest of the vocal cast provides passable work–Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong in particular is a standout–but for such a star-studded cast, there’s little remarkable about any of their performances.

Will The Super Mario Bros. Movie satisfy fans of the videogame? Almost certainly– the sheer totality of recognizable characters and objects featured would be enough to please anyone familiar with the world of Mario. But there’s still a certain emptiness at the core of this film. It seems that in an attempt to please every fan, Nintendo and Illumination created a film overflowing with fun, but devoid of any heart. Any true Mario fan will tell you that every level of the game is packed with hidden secrets and surprise rewards, only findable if you spend time exploring the game’s alluring world. Unfortunately, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is too busy speedrunning to discover any of these surprises; it instead settles for just clearing the level.

★ ★ ½

2.5 / 5 Stars