The Super Mario Bros. Movie


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
"More two-dimensional than many of the videogames it borrows from."

The Super Mario Bros Movie. From the title you probably already know if you're inclined to see it, and in truth I've not angle enough to persuade you otherwise. It's flat, not quite lifeless, more two-dimensional than many of the videogames it borrows from. It's saved not with a memory card but a single performance, but that's not enough to make it worth recommending as the same skills are on display in other, more entertaining, fare.

The 1993 outing (Super Mario Bros.) is two words shorter and 12 minutes longer and a glorious, trippy, failure. It adds more to the weird canon of Nintendo movies than this one does, as do corporate hagiography Tetris and 1989's The Wizard. In and among this film's numerous references to other pictures I found myself thinking of another videogame movie, the weird recursive exercise in nostalgia that was Ready Player One.

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If you want a movie that gets video games, Wreck-It Ralph is right there, and better. If you want a movie based on a game there are dozens of execrable examples but the execution and excitement of Dungeons & Dragons put it front and centre. If you're looking for a movie heavily beholden to a Nintendo property with the character's name in the title then Detective Pikachu is streets ahead. If your feet are tapping while waiting for me to get to a point then the Sonic movies (both of them) are likely to be more for you.

Jack Black's Bowser, giant fire-breathing turtle thing, is the best thing about this. That's mostly because he's a capable character actor, using his voice as another instrument in his array. While someone else plays the piano, his channelling of Elton John (and maybe Sammy Hagar) in plaintive paean Peaches is genuinely entertaining. The piano is branded Ludwig Van Koopa though and that's one of many 'jokes' that feel crowbarred. Bahamutt for Yamaha would have been a seven star reference, but Steinwario would actually have made sense. The only thing I got from the presence of Beethoven was not reminiscence of rondos or sonatas but poor Alex DeLarge being forced to watch.

Chris Pratt (it's a him as Mario) and Charlie Day (set-theory troubling Luigi) are alright. Even with an adorable baby Mario flashback they spend most of the film apart. I could not have told you that it was Anya Taylor-Joy voicing Princess Peach if it hadn't told me on screen, nor that Keegan-Michael Key was the voice of Toad. It was evident though that Seth Rogen was voicing Donkey Kong because however weird the Eighties elements and Karting [sic] segments were, that laugh of his is signature.

The action starts in a version of New York that has a Punch Out Pizza Parlour with a French restaurant called Chasse Du Canard (Duck Hunt). Mario has a Nintendo Entertainment System with a copy of what I think was Kid Icarus. The Mario Bros. Plumbing Co. advert appears to show the two of them 'flying' at the World Trade Centre.

Other details included posters referencing playing cards. That's notable as Nintendo got their start printing Hanafuda, cards that can be used for a variety of games with images of various flora and fauna, though they're usually known as 'flower cards'. That their latter fortunes are based on cards through Pokemon is neatly circular.

The film is perhaps more lazily so. Its post-credits sting might be cribbed from 1998's Godzilla but that's not the only reference. The piece Battle Without Honor or Humanity that featured in 2000's film New Battles Without Honor Or Humanity before being lifted by Tarantino for Kill Bill Volume 1. Other frequently over-used musical cues include ELO's Mr Blue Sky (1977, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), Bonny Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero (1984, Footloose), Thunderstruck (1990, Iron Man 2) and A-Ha's Take On Me (1984).

That last perhaps the oddest, as unlike the montages that accompany the other three (wonder, platform training, gearing up) there's no real reason for it on-screen. There's maybe a sense that Donkey Kong Country is a place where an Eighties guy can thrive, but that appears to extend to casual littering and a grotesque disregard for vehicular safety. Shells of various colours aside, one does wonder if their Karts are less powered by rainbows than by something containing tetraethyl lead.

Tetra meaning 'four', of course, important to that other recent Nintendo movie but also here as direction credits. Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic, Pierre Leduc, and Fabien Polack. That's Teen Titans alumni, and two Illumination animation department staff. Animations a complex act but this has the feel of committee, to return to the various Eighties dangers more Joe Camel than horse (power). Writer Matthew Fogel has previously penned a prequel (Minions: The Rise Of Gru) and two sequels (The Lego Movie 2, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son) and while those three would technically constitute adaptations under Academy rules the struggles here feel different.

Some of it's time. I'm probably not the target audience for this, but damned if I can figure out who is. It's brightly coloured, and loud, but maybe too scary for those who'd enjoy the first two uncritically. I enjoyed spotting eggs, Easter or otherwise, but to no good end. It moved along well enough, but I didn't feel engaged. Some sequences seem solely there for 3D conversion, and some appear to be gameplay trailers for titles I don't want to play. There's maybe mileage in finding each of its allusions but even for those nods The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one to nod off to.

There are some weird crowbarred motivations, there is at least one screenwriting manual that requires major characters have an arc but like an ill-timed jump many of these fall short. Online streaming is full of opportunities to watch people play videogames, but those offer commentary even when they're not done well. I counted six or seven appearances of the phrase "Mamma Mia!" but the ABBA song I kept thinking of was "Take A Chance On Me". Mostly as I wished I hadn't.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2023
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The Super Mario Bros. Movie packshot
The story of The Super Mario Bros. on their journey through the Mushroom Kingdom.
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Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic, Pierre Leduc

Writer: Matthew Fogel

Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Kevin Michael Richardson, Khary Payton

Year: 2023

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US, Japan


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