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“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” Review

May 9, 2023


Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, “The Super Mario Bros Movie” released in theaters April 5, 2023. The movie made a whopping $146 million in its first week, making it the highest grossing movie of 2023. It’s also the best performing video game adaptation movie ever, topping “Warcraft” and “Detective Pikachu.”

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” opens in Brooklyn with the plumbers Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) trying to get their new business off the ground. 

Some Nintendo easter eggs in the background of these initial scenes should produce a small smile from fans. An early shot where Mario and Luigi race through the city in a side scrolling manner cleverly mimics the earlier games. 

There’s also a nod to “The Odyssey” by Homer, with the book visible on a shelf in Mario’s room.  As well as being a reference to the incredible Nintendo Switch game, “Super Mario Odyssey,” this implies that we’re about to watch a hero’s journey.  What follows doesn’t live up to either inspiration. 

In a way that makes little sense, Mario and Luigi find a massive chamber of pipes under Brooklyn, get sucked into one, and end up in the Mushroom Kingdom, which is being threatened by the villainous Bowser (Jack Black). 

The notorious bad guy has found the Super Star he needs to make his final assault on Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the residents of her kingdom, including Toad (Keegan-Michael Key). 

Bowser doesn’t just want power; he wants to make the Princess his bride, singing some truly uninspired songs about his love for her. How on Earth a film like this gets a talent like half of Tenacious D and doesn’t let him unleash a few clever Bowser tunes is one of this film’s many mysteries.

While Luigi lands in a pipeline that leads him to become Bowser’s prisoner, something that sidelines him for an hour, Mario meets Princess Peach, who introduces him to power-ups. 

All the question-mark cubes get a chance to shine as Mario grows, shrinks, and even turns into a raccoon. They eventually recruit Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), race down Rainbow Road, and save the day. That’s not a spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie. 

The dialogue is not very strong. Fans of this movie will shout from the rooftops that the scripting for something called “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” doesn’t need to be a strength. I personally disagree with that statement. 

To be fair, there are a few cool settings in terms of design. I enjoyed the choices made by the team in the structure of Donkey Kong Country. The Rainbow Road “Super Mario Kart” sequence is well-directed.

I would, however, ask why fans of a franchise that has inspired so much love for generations can be satisfied with the absolute minimum regarding storytelling.

There are so few actual decisions made in the construction of this film. It’s just a collection of visual and character references cobbled together to form a 92-minute movie. 

Take a risk. Just do something. Anything. It got me thinking about other spin-offs that exist. Imagine a “Mad Max: Fury Road” version of the “Mario Kart” sequence that gets energy out of non-stop motion, or a version like “The LEGO Movie” that’s more sharply aware of its references and world-building. They could even incorporate the player, like that movie does in the end.

I swear that almost everyone who has played a game like “Odyssey” could come up with something more inventive than this movie. Heck, any ten minutes of that game is more creative.

It doesn’t help that the voice work is uniformly mediocre too. 

Chris Pratt can be charismatic with the right material, but it sounds like he pounded this out in three hours. Charlie Day has such an expressive voice, but the movie barely uses him. Seth Rogen is always a welcome presence, and he at least seems to be having some fun. I wish I was too.

Nostalgia craze merging with the power of Nintendo and Illumination makes “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” feel too big to fail. That means we’ll probably get a sequel. I want a world where the people who make films for a fan base as devoted as this one don’t take that fandom for granted. 

This is far from over. I suspect we will get a ton of films from the NES universe, including “Donkey Kong Country” and “The Legend of Zelda”. But we need creators who don’t just see these games as products to be referenced but as foundations on which new ideas can be built.

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