Monday, April 10, 2023

MicroReview [Movie]: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Let's-A-Go (see this movie)!

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is Nintendo’s second attempt to bring the world’s favorite Italian plumber —and brother—to the big screen. This time they wisely went with an animated approach to bring the mustachioed duo to life. Considering the Mario series of games have always been rather bland in story but rich in gameplay, I wondered how they would transition this to a feature-length film. Everyone knows the “our princess is in another castle” device that’s synonymous with the franchise, but besides the main focal point of saving the princess, what else is there?

The Super Mario Bros. Movie immediately scraps the old story device, instead making Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) assist Mario (Chris Pratt) in rescuing his brother, Luigi (Charlie Day) while also defending the Mushroom Kingdom. Peach peacefully rules her obeying Toad subjects and commands with enthusiasm, a far cry from the perpetually captured princess in the video games. Bowser (Jack Black) has been taking over the other kingdoms, and with the Super Star, he now has what he needs to propose to Princess Peach.

Bowser’s desire for Peach leads to some comical scenes that allow Jack Black to shine in the role. In addition, Pratt, Day, Keegan-Michael Key (Toad), and Fred Armisen (Cranky Kong) do well in their respective roles, bringing life to an already colorful movie. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, delivers a rather bland performance, though sometimes the writing sand line delivery saves him. Charles Martinet has a cameo that will instantly be recognizable to fans of the games, and I’m thankful that they went with someone else for the voice of Mario. For all the backlash from fans, Pratt does a good job adapting the character to a feature film. It works well, as mentioned earlier, along with all the other characters.

Illumination’s animation looks beautiful, truly bringing the Mushroom Kingdom to life. The bright, colorful Toads and vibrant jungles of Kong country contrast with Bowser’s Dark Lands to encompass much of what the Mario games dream of. I would love to see an upcoming Mario game with even a fraction of the quality of this film. It nails the aesthetic, and any Mario fan will appreciate the respect paid to the source material in this aspect.

But what of other aspects? References are laid throughout the film, filled to the brim and bursting. Some are cleverly included, small details that fans of the games will appreciate (like the little speed boost after Mario hits a nice drift on Rainbow Road). While others are forced in, making a point to jab the game’s inside jokes toward the long-time fan. While the first few welcome chuckles, the movie’s constant reliance on them gets old quickly. The score is, as expected, delightful and nostalgia inducing.

Despite the movie being filled with obvious, contrived puns (some of which land, mind you), the overall story is simple, yet effective. Even if it all feels a bit rushed. The movie has a better story than any Mario game I’ve played (though I haven't played them all), and they keep the viewer at a breakneck pace as they introduce new characters and obstacles. Foes become allies in no time at all and the plot resolves itself in a quick hour and thirty-five minutes. I believe this is a strength in some ways, as most movies don't need to run for two-plus hours. The issue here is the over-reliance on its references. It feels as if they want to make sure they include something from almost every Mario game ever—as if this will be the last chance they have to do something like this (and if early numbers are indicative of future success, there will certainly be a sequel). They could have used the time showing some of those hidden Mario gems to tighten up the plot a bit. Despite this, the movie doesn't overstay its welcome and manages to cater well to both fans and young audiences.

As I took in the vibrant world created by Illumination, I did my best to absorb as much of the inclusion of Mario lore as I could. At times, the references became overwhelming to the point that I couldn't keep track, but it still works. Watching Mario fail repeatedly on an obstacle course from Peach kept me entertained, paying tribute to the numerous times I (and every other player) died to Bullet Bill and Fire Bars. The hesitation Mario shows before making the wrong move is directly reflective of player interaction with the games. I greatly respected this attention to detail throughout the film when done properly.

In the end, The Super Mario Bros. Movie tries to do too much, but it still works well at being what it needs to be: an entertaining film that attracts both fans and newcomers that sets up future installments. And even if you don't love it, it doesn’t force you to sit there for too long. It holds plenty of promise that will hopefully be honed in a sequel.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonus: +1 for respect to the video gamer's expereince. +1 for amazing visuals and animations. +1 for vocal performances/casting.

Penalties: -1 for too many references. -1 for forced puns. -1 feeling rushed.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.