As a child of the 1980s, I still remember that moment when my Nintendo console powered on. Our family bought the combo version which included a copy of both SUPER MARIO BROS and DUCK HUNT, the latter of which had the zapper. But we revved up SUPER MARIO BROS right away as it was the absolute game of the moment. Little Mario just running across a side-scrolling game as he jumped, hit power ups and saved the Princess seems pretty simple but it was such a creative game in which you felt really involved and treasured as a game-player. (And I had fun with DUCK HUNT as well, usually firing the gun right up at the screen because I wanted those kills.)
Over the years we have had so many video game adaptations in varying forms from animation to live action, and with a surplus of movies coming out in the last few years there was no doubt that a new Mario movie was on the way. When announced it caused a huge sensation and excitement and yet to my colossal disappointment, there is no life or energy in the new THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE in a totally different way than the original 1993 movie, which has now turned into a life of its own with a scandalous production and even worse reception. One day we’ll get something that rivals the originality of something that was original and exciting like THE LEGO MOVIE but it’s not here with Universal and Illumination’s rendition of the game. You know exactly where you are getting with this and that’s the problem; the charm of the video games themselves drew outside the corners and you could also improvise a lot in how you actually played them, making the experience just a bit more unique for everyone.
Mario & Luigi (voices of Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) are our hero plumbers who find their way into the Mushroom Kingdom. The villainous Bowser (voice of Jack Black) of course wants all control. One funny part of this story is Bowser’s absolute love for Princess Peach (voice of Anya Taylor-Joy) and even how everyone around him knows she’s unattainable in that way, and it’s a story element of creativity that I wish would spread out to other parts of the story.
Mario and Luigi are separated when they transform into this world and Princess Peach winds up running into Mario and teaching him about this world including how power-ups work. There are several of the games that are referenced here and even some of the connecting games that inspired it, and it’s really disappointing to hear long dialogue explanations of everything and how things work instead of letting the audience do a little bit of work.
Most of the voice here is pretty bland and providing exactly what is needed, more proving my theory that more actual voice-work artists are needed over famous actors just to sell names on a poster. Chris Pratt and Charlie Day’s work as Mario & Luigi could have been voiced by anyone, and even Joy as Princess Peach and even Keegen-Michael Kay are uninspired. The only voice that felt inspired here was Seth Rogen doing the voice Donkey Kong, and the filmmakers were smart to let his trademark car-will-not-start laughter into the soundtrack a few times.
Everything in this movie is completely telegraphed and explained with no surprise as it unfolds. It’s easy and uncomplicated, made for people who don’t want to think or even bring some of their own intelligence into the storytelling or design. I was reminded of the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG movies from a few years ago as well, where I felt a lot of what got onto screen was a result of too many cooks in the kitchen, all wanting some kind of standardized recipe that they think that everyone will enjoy instead of a vision that also gets the viewer to get more involved.
With all of that said, it’s still a great looking movie with eye-popping colours, a great widescreen look and feel and I did get some visual flair out of all of it, but in no way close to Illumination’s MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU from last year that actually had some creativity to go along with the fun and lively look. There’s a gorgeous sequence involving Mario Kart, Rainbow Road and a MAD MAX FURY ROAD inspired shot of a lot of carts in a wide shot that was so beautiful that I wish I could recommend the movie on that alone.
Overall, MARIO is going to make a lot of money and it also has cross-generation appeal which won’t just appeal to little kids. I noticed at my late night screening that I had a lot more middle-aged people in the audience and no doubt grew up on this game just like I did, and maybe even still play it from time to time. And part of me is fine with that too. We’re still dealing with a slouch in attendance and movie theatres need the money and the business needs, and it was great to see a packed audience on a weekday night. And if you still enjoy it, more power to you. And yet the film buff in me that knows there can be a great adaptation of a famous video game wants so, so much than what is on screen here.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE is now playing in theatres.