Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

© Illumination, Universal and Nintendo

The Super Mario Bros. Movie – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy,  Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan Michael-Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen

Directors: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Synopsis: After being transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario must join forces with Princess Peach to stop Bowser from conquering the world…

Review: With his signature red cap, overalls and signature moustache, it is not an exaggeration to say that ever since he made his first appearance in a Donkey Kong arcade video game in 1981, the character of Mario has become one of, if not the, most famous video game character of all time. Given his enormous influence in video games, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the legendary Italian plumber has crossed over to the cinematic realm, only once. Then again, given how poorly received both critically and commercially the 1993 film was, it is little wonder Nintendo exhibited uncertainty before giving another cinematic adventure with Mario the green pipe, sorry, green light. Now, 30 years after that unmitigated disaster, Nintendo has teamed up with Illumination to bring us a new cinematic incarnation which certainly captures the essence of the games, but sadly falls short of landing the gold star it would have hoped for.

Mario (Pratt) and Luigi (Day) are brothers who have started a plumbing business in New York City. While out on a job, the duo stumble across a pipe which transports Mario to the Mushroom Kingdom, and Luigi to a realm controlled by the evil Bowser (Black). Determined to rescue his brother, Mario must team up with Princess Peach (Taylor-Joy) to save him and stop Bowser’s plans from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom.  Such a plot feels ripped straight from a Mario game, and the film endeavours to feel as authentic to the games as possible, which will undoubtedly please long-time fans of the franchise. Yet, while such a strive for authenticity is to be commended, it also comes at a cost. Matthew Fogel’s screenplay opts for a simplistic approach of throwing as many recognisable elements we have seen from iconic Mario games of the past into the film such as the racing, or Luigi’s Mansion, with seemingly little thought of a plot or a fully developed story. The use of these Easter Eggs will please long-time fans, but the world of Mario is so vast and rich, the opportunity was there to come up with a story which is not severely lacking, and could not even be fixed with the help of a magic mushroom.

The subject of the voice casting was, to put it mildly, the topic of much discussion, with Chris Pratt’s casting as the voice of Mario the decision which was by far and away the most debated. Pratt is an actor who has proven he has the potential to be a voice actor in comedies (The Lego Movie) and in more heartfelt emotional roles (Onward). The decision to have Mario and Luigi as brothers who hail from Brooklyn is a smart one and it makes for an easy adjustment for fans who might have been worried about Pratt attempting the familiar exaggerated Italian accent, though there is a fun little nod to that at the beginning of the film. The voice work across the board is functional towards the film’s paper-thin plot. Furthermore, since there’s barely a scintilla of character development on the majority of the characters, with the exceptions of Princess Peach and Bowser, it results in no emotional stakes in the ensuing adventure at all.  Peach’s character is often reduced to the role of a damsel-in-distress in the games, yet she is thankfully proactive and asserts her leadership over the Mushroom Kingdom while Jack Black’s portrayal of the King of the Koopas injects some much-needed personality and humour into the film, but it all counts for very little.

The animation is impressive in its detail as it perfectly captures the look and feel of a typical Mario game. However, the bar for animated films continues to be raised by studios across the board in recent years, and consequently, in spite of its phenomenal success at the box office with its Despicable Me franchise, Illuminiation’s efforts still pale in comparison to the efforts of its rival studios. Given the immense popularity of these characters, which have stood the test of time over multiple decades, there was so much potential for a proper big-screen adaptation which has successfully introduces him to a new generation and satisfy the audience members who grew up with the video games. It certainly accomplishes the former, but really misses the mark with the latter. Mamma Mia, what a missed opportunity!

Impressively animated, but a paper-thin story and severely undeveloped characters ensure this latest adaptation of the Nintendo franchise is devoid of any emotional stakes which made the games so iconic.


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