Mario is without question the biggest icon in video game history. Practically everyone knows Mario, regardless of whether or not they’ve played any of the dozens of games he’s featured in. Nintendo attempted to make a Super Mario Bros. live-action movie 30 years, but the reception was so bad that it’s taken this long for the Japanese developer to trust Hollywood studios again. The Super Mario Bros. Movie goes the animated route, enlisting the Minions studio Illumination to craft a nostalgic fueled ride through the Mushroom Kingdom. The film is plastered with references, easter eggs, and just about everything you can imagine from the game. So much so that the story is bare-bones as Mario simply jumps from one colorful screen to the next without a care in the world. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is barely a movie and more like a nostalgic overload to the senses.
Plumbers and brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are struggling with their new business together when they are sucked into a magical pipe underground that transports them from the streets of Brooklyn to the color world of the Mushroom Kingdom. There, the cruel and evil ruler Bowser (Jack Black) steals the powerful Super Star and plans to take over all the lands. Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) enlists the help of Mario to save her kingdom and the two embark on a mission to defeat Bowser and save the Mushroom Kingdom from destruction.
The story of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is very much like the original game in that it’s practically non-existent. Defeat Bowser. Rescue the princess. Stomp on a bunch of koopas and goombas in the process. The film of course expands on all that but rather than asking what elements of the franchise could be bolstered to make a better story, it simply throws as much as it can on screen in the hopes that audiences won’t care because hey, we referenced Punch-Out!! or Smash Bros. It’s not that the story is terrible, either. It’s just that it does nothing. The film rushes through every scene so there’s no time to process anything you’re watching. It would be easy to say that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a kid’s movie and that it doesn’t need to be complex or deep to be entertaining, but that just feels like an excuse. You can make a smart and intelligent movie for kids; just look at the recent Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Here, creating an entertaining story is ignored in favor of pushing the Mario brand.
That being said, the film does have it’s 1-Up moments. The score is incredible and perfectly utilizes the music from the game within the context of the film. The melodies and the worlds they are paired with are instantly recognizable and take you back to when you were sitting in front of the television with a controller in hand. Jack Black’s Bowser is also a highlight of the film with his determination to impress Princess Peach. It’s difficult not to laugh when Bowser sits at a piano surrounded by flames, belting out a power ballad in typical Jack Black fashion. The juxtaposition of the adorable Luma from Super Mario Galaxy and its doom and gloom personality is also a nice addition as well. Overall, the voice acting isn’t that bad to be honest, which was my biggest worry about Chris Pratt after watching the trailer. It’s not anything special, but it doesn’t distract you from the overall film. If anything, The Super Mario Bros. Movie succeeds in making you want to go and play any one of the Super Mario games. That’s the power of nostalgia.
At the end of the day, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is just fine; nothing more, nothing less. It’s moment after moment of doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the screen and showing off your Mario knowledge with how many references you understand. Illumination and Nintendo could have taken a chance and done something interesting with Mario, but instead decided to just throw everything they have up on screen messily glue it together. The music and animation are beautiful, but apparently everything else was apparently left in another castle.
The film is plastered with references, easter eggs, and just about everything you can imagine from the game. So much so that the story is bare-bones as Mario simply jumps from one colorful screen to the next without a care in the world.