Being a gamer with a love of film, I wondered how well a movie about the Mario brothers would translate to the big screen. In the ’90s, my life was consumed by the Nintendo Entertainment System. So, in 1993, when Super Mario Bros. was released to theaters, I made sure I was first in line to see it.
We didn’t have the internet then, so there were no spoilers. No reviews. It was truly a movie I went in completely blind to, except for knowing the core ideas from the game. The filmmakers had a chance to knock it out of the ballpark with one of the very first video game-based movies, and what we got was one of the worst movies ever made. It was an alternate-world story that shoehorned in things from the game. Super Mario Bros. was a flop, despite its great cast.
Fast forward to 2023. Thirty years have passed. We have had all kinds of movies based on games since then, and Universal Studios and Illumination are bringing back the plumbers with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. In this animated film, brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) have decided to make a change in their lives and become full-time plumbers, much to the chagrin of their family.
Seeing an opportunity to make a name for themselves by stopping a major leak in Brooklyn, the siblings are pulled into another universe. Luigi lands in the Darklands, and is quickly captured by Bowser (Jack Black). Mario is fortunate enough to land in the Mushroom Kingdom, where he meets Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). Together, the trio sets out to save Luigi and stop Bowser from conquering the entire world.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie has a cast that really made use of their talents. Many fans of the franchise were upset that Chris Pratt was tapped for the lead role. They wanted the original voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, to take the lead. Maybe it would have worked, but Chris does a great job of making the rather diminutive character feel like a hero. And he did this simply with the tone of his voice.
Compared to Bob Hoskins from the 1993 film, Chris makes Mario feel like a champion. He has a no-nonsense approach to life. He is fiercely protective of Luigi, not allowing anything or anyone to cause him harm. Bob Hoskins’ version was more along the lines of an everyday man. He loved Luigi, but he did not feel like he was ever going to be able to save his brother, let alone the world they were in.
While the interpretations worked, Chris Pratt really makes Mario feel like a winner. Charlie Day is the perfect Luigi, mainly being timid and reserved compared to Mario, but he’s also able to tap into a more courageous character when the two are together. This is in stark contrast to John Leguizamo’s version, which was more adventurous and energetic. I do have to give Leguizamo a pass though, as Luigi had no real personality when the original film was made, so he and the writers had to work from scratch.
The rest of the cast does a good job of fleshing out their virtual roles. Jack Black brings his own style of acting to the King of the Koopa Troopas. Bowser comes across as both a terrifying warlord and a lovestruck simp. This take on the character feels natural, as if Bowser in the game has a major crush on Princess Peach, but only knows how to get attention by causing havoc. Anya Taylor-Joy makes the princess a badass, just as willing to give a diplomatic speech as she was to get her hands dirty on the front lines. And Keegan-Michael Key makes Toad both lovable and laughable. These actors only had voice-overs, but they made the CGI toons feel real.
Unfortunately, those are the best parts of the film. Actors can only do so much. It’s the writer’s responsibility to bring a quality story to the table. And the writers of The Super Mario Bros. Movie failed.
The movie starts out strong, with lots of Easter eggs and a decent backstory. But then it just falls apart. It was like they wanted to cram three video games’ worth of storyline into 90 minutes. Almost every single trope from the series is forced, turning what could have been a grand return to cinemas for Mario into what feels like a made-for-TV special. Jokes are recycled over and over. Slow motion is used countless times when it was unneeded. It is rushed, uneven and repetitive. Simply put, the movie is not good.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie earns two out of five stars. Kids and casual fans may like it. You will even get a chuckle out of some of the jokes. But all in all, it feels like a 90-minute commercial for Universal’s new Super Mario World theme park. If that was the intent, it failed as well, ’cause now I have no desire to make the trip. Universal could have done this franchise a service, and maybe if a sequel is made, there will be some redemption.
I cannot recommend this movie to anyone, but that is just my opinion. Watch it yourself and tell me what you think!