Friday, April 28, 2023

Green Phoenix - The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review

 A poster featuring various Mario characters (Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Peach, etc.)

In the annals of video game history, few games hold quite the status and legacy of Super Mario Bros. Released in 1985, Super Mario Bros. quickly achieved a reputation as one of the greatest games ever made and is almost singularly responsible for not only putting Nintendo on the map, but even saving the entire video game industry following the video game crash of 1983.

With such a legacy, its little wonder that video game adaptations of such a beloved game would occur. Unfortunately for history, the first such adaptation was 1993's Super Mario Bros., starring the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi respectively. To say the film was poorly received would be a gross understatement. The film is almost as legendary as the game it was based on, but mostly for how absolutely, abysmally terrible it was for the cast, crew and audience to deal with. The film was so bad that it actually colored the general audiences perception of video game film adaptations for nearly a decade.

The view on video game adaptations has slowly been shifting thanks to the release of films like Sonic the Hedgehog, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nintendo threw their hat back in the ring and adapted their most popular IP. The public reaction at the time that The Super Mario Bros. Movie was announced was, if I recall correctly, hesitance at best. The casting of big named celebrities like Chris Pratt rather than professional voice actors (like Charles Martinet, the actual voice of Mario) drew criticism, as did the hiring of Illumination (the company behind Despicable Me and The Grinch) to actually produce the film; as the company isn't exactly known for its films being super risky or transformative.

So The Super Mario Bros. Movie had a great deal of weight and suspicion going into theaters. Having watched the film with my brother and his horde of children, was this reluctance on the part of the audience deserved or is the film far better than the legacy that the 1993 film placed upon it?

  • Directed by Aaron Horvath & Michael Jelenic
  • Produced by Universal Pictures
  • Runtime: 92 Minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG


Mario and Luigi, two brothers who are plumbers based out of Brooklyn, are down on their luck and desperate to prove themselves to their family and former boss. When a plumbing job goes bad, the brothers get separated and teleported to a mysterious magical world. While Mario is teleported to the Mushroom Kingdom, ruled by Princess Peach; Luigi, the younger brother, is captured by the evil Bowser, king of the Koopas, who wishes to marry Peach and has captured the Legendary Super Star in order to hold the Mushroom Kingdom hostage and force a marriage through.
With his brother captured, Mario teams up with Peach and her loyal subject Toad to stop Bowser, save the Mushroom Kingdom, and rescue his brother. Their journey will see them travel to the powerful Kong Kingdom for allies, race along the treacherous Rainbow Road, and even back to Brooklyn for a confrontation that will prove just how super the Mario Bros. really are.



The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fantastically entertaining film. Like much of the Illumination's lineup, it isn't some amazing art piece or masterfully transformative work. What it is is a highly polished, well-designed, entertaining feast for the sense that comes from a place of genuine love for the source material. My only major complaint for the film is ironically that I wish there was more of it, but I will go into that a little later.

One thing I will absolutely give credit to Illumination is that all of their films tend to have a distinct style and polish that I think works great for a franchise like Mario. Visually the film is nearly perfect. Vibrant colors and great design really fit with the world and immerse you in the Mushroom Kingdom. I did have some fears and knew that there were some concerns about the character designs being different from the games but I genuinely believe that the changes actually enhance the immersion and provide just a little bit more realism to ground the film in real stakes while still providing great comedy. The film actually utilizes its cartoony aesthetic to great effecting, allowing for great moments of comedy and well-paced action sequences.

These visuals are only enhance by a stunning soundtrack. The soundtrack to The Super Mario Bros. Movie is steeped in references to the games, while still providing its own unique experience that had me jamming out to the soundtrack even outside of the movie. I actually was able to remember tracks on their own merits and could visualize the scenes in my head. This is what a great soundtrack can do for a film and it all goes together to show the true strength of this film, a passion in the production and crew for the source material.

In a lot of adaptations, there is sometimes a desire to separate the adaptation from the source material to ensure a director or production have their own "vision". In the worst cases, those productions might not even know or care enough about anything from the source material to properly adapt it into a different medium. That is anbsolutely not the case here. Watching this film, I was struck almost from the first frame by how much passion and love for Mario went into this film. I know a lot of this is Nintendo's protective hovering over their golden goose property, but given the legendarily terrible production behind the 1993 Mario adaptation, Nintendo's presence wasn't a guarantee of faithfulness to source material.

No. This film's strong connection to its source material could only come about from a mutual passion for the property from both Nintendo and Illumination. The fact that many of the animators, writers and actors likely grew up playing Mario games also goes to show how ubiquitous the property is within the cultural zeitgeist.

That isn't to say that there wasn't anything that I wouldn't want to see improved. The films character and story rankings are going to be a little lower than the other scores, only because they are both brought down by the same exact element. I just don't think the film is long enough. At 92 minutes, The Super Mario Bros. Movie would normally be a perfect length for an animated film. However, given the pacing and what the film wanted to achieve, I actually think the film could've been 10-20 minutes longer and been an almost perfect 9/10.

I say this because The Super Mario Bros. Movie kind of ends up suffering from a pacing issue present in a lot of animated movies aimed towards younger audiences, a reluctance for quiet and emotional moments. And yet, I think we really needed a few more scenes of that, also a minor action sequence (maybe with the Blue Shell) following Mario's training montage would also have probably helped with his emotional arc. This film was 92 minutes and packed with content, and yet it still felt like the film was moving at a mile a minute at times and could've seriously benefited from a few chances to take a breather and just bathe itself in the stunning visuals and good writing.

Because other than the duration issue, which harms the emotional development of the character as well as the pacing, the film is sharply written and very funny. The film doesn't take itself too seriously and has some moments of hilarity that had me struggling for breath or giggling like a lunatic. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is fully aware of how surreal the world they constructed is and take full advantage of that fact. The fact that the story is written in such a way that it functions both as a standalone and a potential buildup for future Nintendo properties is actually very thrilling (I wouldn't be surprised if Nintendo is laying groundwork for a Smash Bros.cinematic universe).

In terms of characters, I know that audiences were hesitant to be too excited at this film when they saw a cast of big names rather than professional voice actors. The choice of Chris Pratt (who very much seems to be a leading man of the moment these days) over Charles Martinet (the original voice of Mario) definitely didn't ease these fears. Thankfully, I do believe such fears are mostly unfounded. Pratt does a fine job as Mario, playing him very much as an Italian-American from Brooklyn rather than a stereotypical Italian. I was always aware of it being Pratt's voice, but his charisma and charm come through the character and really make you feel and appreciate Mario.
The fact that Pratt is counterparted by Charlie Day as Luigi is I think a great choice. Day is fantastic in his role as the frightened plumber, though I like the chemistry between Mario and Luigi so much, I do wish that we got to see more of it in the film. Perhaps some more flashbacks could've been added? Anya-Taylor Joy was fine as Peach with her transforming the stereotypical damsel-in-distress into a warrior queen, which I think is a fine adaptational change to fit with a more complex storyline than your standard Mario game.Then there is Keegan Michael-Key as Toad who is unrecognizable to me. He's great and really works as a sidekick for Mario in the absence of Luigi, even if doesn't do very much narratively beside leading people around.

If there is one standout performance though, it has to be Jack Black as Bowser. I don't think anyone was surprised at just how good Black was, but my god! Bowser was a perfect balance of threatening and hilarious. He used power and humor in equal measure. This is the Bowser that I've come to expect from the Mario and Luigi game series, a villain that comes off as both threatening and pathetic at the drop of a hat; but still possessing a strange charm that makes you like him whenever he's on screen.

Lots of movies have villains you love to hate. Bowser is a villain that you love to love. Yeah, he's the bad guy; but he's so innocent in his goal (get the girl) that you kind of want him to win (but not really because there are some elements of the character that come off as toxic "nice guy", which I'm sure was intentional). Based on the overall success of the film, I wouldn't be surprised if plans for a sequel are already in the work. If that's the case, I would be thrilled to see Bowser back in action for more whimsical fun.

I think that's really the best part of this movie. It was so fun that the only major criticism that I have of it is that there could've been more of it to elevate it even further. Despite this, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a hilariously entertaining and loving tribute to a video game franchise that has become a cornerstone of many a generation. I really don't think it is much of an exaggeration to say that this movie, regardless of its flaws, might easily be considered the greatest video game movie ever made. It's not a perfect movie without flaw, but it is the perfect encapsulation of Mario that I have ever seen. It did exactly what it needed to and it did it efficiently and entertainingly.

And the box office awarded that effort. Rightly in my humble opinion.
  • 9/10
  • 10/10
  • 7/10
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.25/10

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