Credits: Universal Pictures/Illumination Studios/Nintendo

Does ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ put the ‘super’ in Super Mario?

Even for Nintendo, this was a left-field move – in the middle of a Direct, the gaming giant announced that it was partnering with Illumination to make an animated Mario film. Every piece of news that came out was both exciting and terrifying from the voice cast to the trailers, and I’ll admit to not knowing what to expect – or, indeed, if the film would even work. So, as The Super Mario Bros. Movie lands in cinemas, what’s the verdict? Frankly, it depends. If you want a fun Mario experience, you’re going to be blown away by how rich the film is – but if you want to enjoy it as a film, it’s more than a little slight.

Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are a pair of brothers who run a plumbing business in Brooklyn. One day, a job goes wrong, and they fall into a warp pipe beneath the city that transports them to a new world – Mario winds up in the Mushroom Kingdom, while Luigi falls into the Dark Lands and is swiftly captured. Mario hopes to find his brother, and this leads him and Toad (Keegan Michael-Key) to the castle of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is facing the threat of the villainous Bowser (Jack Black). The plumber joins Peach as she battles the King of the Koopas, rescuing his brother and returning to the real world.

If you’re a Mario fan, or a Nintendo fan in general, you’ll be blown away by the amount of Easter eggs here. There are tons of side characters in background shots – who’d have thought we’d see a supporting role for Foreman Spike? Charles Martinet has a few voice roles, and there are some nods to other franchises and classic Nintendo properties. The Illumination animation doesn’t look cheap, as many feared – it feels like a real labour of love, like the directors actually wanted to translate as much of the world of Super Mario Bros. to the screen as they could.

It bounces from set-piece to set-piece, and it’s good fun, but it doesn’t do much beyond that

It’s rare that sound is the real highlight of a film, but that’s true in the Mario movie. The voice acting works great despite the initial criticism about Pratt’s casting. He’s good fun as Mario, bringing a lot of everyman charm. Taylor-Joy and Seth Rogan (as Donkey Kong) are good support, and Black is clearly having a whale of a time hamming it up as Bowser – he’s both scary and hilarious in equal measure. And the music – Brian Tyler knocks it out of the park, and this may be one of his best scores to date. It’s exciting and bombastic, and it works in many of the Koji Kondo themes in magical ways (the subtle nods to Luigi’s Mansion in a sequence from a horror film is particularly good).

There’s so much fan service in here and I loved it, but it would have been great for the writers to sketch in some story beats too. Excluding credits this isn’t even a 90-minute film, and it feels like what we have isn’t enough content to sustain even that short runtime – it bounces from set-piece to set-piece, and it’s good fun, but it doesn’t do much beyond that. If you expected a story beyond Luigi being captured and Mario fighting Bowser (with echoes of Odyssey in the finer details), you’re going to be disappointed. There are hints of both Donkey Kong and Mario struggling with their fathers and a mysterious backstory for Peach, but these are barely touched on as the film just crams more stuff in. Even Luigi overcoming his fear (a key narrative journey) is very marginally presented, and that’s a shame.

I’m unsure where to start on The Super Mario Bros. Movie – as a Nintendo and Mario nerd, the little kid in me got excited every time I recognised a bit of music, or I placed an obscure character in a photograph in a bar. It really appeals on that front, and it’s great that it isn’t just a cheap cash-grab. But as a film, there’s a lot to be desired. It needed to be a bit longer, or have a bit more focus. I’d gladly have sacrificed, say, a Star Fox nod here and there to tighten up the story. Pitch your expectations accordingly – thrive in the fan service, or be slightly underwhelmed by a film that falls short of putting the ‘super’ into Super Mario.


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