Finally, a shining Super Star among a mostly stale roster of video game adaptations.
For players first loading up World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. on the NES, it’s hard to imagine that an 8-Bit plumber by the name of Mario would ever become the worldwide phenomenon he is today. Flash forward nearly 38 years, and not only is he a worldwide phenomenon, but the most recognizable figure in all of gaming. With an empire as large as his, it only made sense for the development team at Nintendo to continue his takeover across all mediums. Their latest venture? A redo at Hollywood — after a failed live-action adaptation in the ’90s — now bringing Mario and friends to the big screen alongside Illumination in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Don’t fret, though, as this isn’t a mere cash-grab. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a cinematic marvel, delivering fans old and new a masterclass in animation that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
The film follows Mario and his younger, more introverted brother Luigi, as failed small business owners of — you guessed it — Super Mario Bros. Plumbing. After a mission to disprove their naysayers goes sideways, the brothers stumble upon a hidden underground location with a not-so-mysterious green warp pipe that takes them to two separate locations: Luigi, to the Dark Lands — home of Bowser, the most vicious creature in all of the land — and Mario, to the Mushroom Kingdom, where his journey to rescue his brother will soon begin. While the plot might appear barebones at first glance, The Super Mario Bros. Movie excels in highlighting the brotherly bond between the plumbers, which makes Mario’s mission to save Luigi all the more meaningful. With that in mind, it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much their relationship was explored as it offered a look into these characters’ motivations that aren’t always considered in their video game counterparts. Luigi being the film’s damsel in distress, rather than Peach, was also a very welcome decision, especially considering the fact that the mainline Super Mario games have refused to stray away from the dated Save the Princess trope since first debuting in 1985. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has mentioned having desires of making Peach a more fully-realized protagonist, so having that 180-degree flip in character shown onscreen — which will likely be the first time many people are introduced to her — was the ultimate payoff.
From the get-go, Miyamoto and Illumination’s Chris Meledandri want to make it clear that you are watching a Nintendo movie crafted with the same love for the brand that fans have put into each of their franchises. Just within the first 15 minutes of your first watch, it would be impossible to count the amount of easter eggs hidden in each frame. The most minute of details, from Luigi’s ringtone to an unexpected cameo, are meticulously placed with the goal of putting a smile on the faces of longstanding Nintendo fans. It’s a type of fan-service that doesn’t feel cheap. It’s well-thought out and catered to the very players who made Super Mario and the Nintendo brand the gaming titans that they are today. Along with these easter eggs is an impeccable score by Brian Tyler, inspired by the original game themes composed by Koji Kondo. Everything weaves together just so perfectly in what feels like the ultimate culmination of Nintendo’s legacy in the gaming industry.
Among the main voice cast is Chris Pratt as Mario, whose casting announcement received quite the amount of backlash from fans, many of which took issue with his lack of Italian ethnicity. In theory, how could an actor of mostly Norwegian descent bring to life a character as iconic as Mario? A character whose voice is his trademark? That was the question on everyone’s mind, and luckily, Pratt delivered. While not the voice cast’s brightest star by any means, he still managed to deliver a believable, dynamic, and surprisingly emotional performance as the beloved Italian plumber. After watching Nintendo’s latest attempt at bringing their characters to the big screen — which will hopefully launch an entire universe of films exploring their AAA titles — it’s hard to imagine anyone else strapping on those plumber boots. The real standouts of The Super Mario Bros. Movie would undoubtedly have to be Bowser, voiced by Jack Black, and Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong. The latter didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, but the extent at which Armisen’s interpretation of the character had the theater laughing cannot be understated. Soaking up every minute of his screen time, Cranky Kong is simply hilarious, and Fred Armisen breathed new life into a character that should truthfully be more of a staple across the modern day Super Mario universe. Back to Black, his Bowser quite literally ticked every box, and then some. Jack Black was born to play this role, and what a joy it was to watch his love and dedication to Bowser shine through in his performance.
On the other hand, Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as the ever-iconic Princess Peach admittedly fell flat at times. While Peach as a character has been elevated to the self-sufficient warrior princess that fans have been asking for, Anya’s performance just didn’t feel all that inspired or up-to-par with the rest of the cast. Her weaker moments are especially noticeable when sharing the screen with juggernauts like Jack Black and Keegan-Michael Key, who made concerted efforts in adding their own flare to Bowser and Toad, respectively. It also would have been nice to see more creativity put into Peach’s backstory, which was explained so quickly that it almost felt as if the writers didn’t want to explore that territory at all. Hopefully Nintendo and Illumination can delve deeper into Peach’s origin story at some point in the future, because the question of exactly how she stumbled upon the Mushroom Kingdom as a young child is still left unanswered.
In terms of pacing, The Super Mario Bros. Movie could have benefited from a Blue Shell or two at certain points. While its 93-minute runtime felt justified considering the simplicity of the plot, it would have been nice to spend more time with the Mushroom Kingdom’s heroes, especially during the film’s more tender moments.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a love letter to Miyamoto’s beloved universe of characters, encapsulating nearly 38 years of smiles brought to players by Mario and friends. While many of its easter eggs are purposely catered to longstanding fans of the Super Mario franchise, it remains accessible to audiences of all ages far and wide, and will surely open the door to an entirely new generation of fans. With a talented voice cast, gorgeous visuals and a flawless score to match, this film is, and should be, a hit. 1985’s Super Mario Bros. revitalized a once withering gaming industry, and even today, the franchise continues to change the way we view and experience video games. All those years later, Nintendo and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie reignites this trend by delivering audiences with one of the greatest video game film adaptations of all time.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is in theaters now.