There isn’t much surprise in The Super Mario Bros Movie, given the companies behind it.
Published on April 12, 2023
Rating 2 /5
With Nintendo being one of the biggest video companies in the world and Illumination being one of the most profitable animation studios, having them collaborate on The Super Mario Bros Movie is a perfect match. Unfortunately, that match only matters to its shareholders hoping for a beefy box office return that will appeal to general audiences. The film they have developed comes off less like a harrowing adventure of a plumber in a fantasy land and more like a commercial product with its strings highly visible.
The problems with this film are the same problems that Illumination has had with all their animated films. Movies like Despicable Me and Sing have been pictures with narratives that feel stitched together from decent animated gags and asides, rarely paying off character arcs in a meaningful way. This is sad because the usually chipper and vanilla eccentricity of Mario (Chris Pratt) is given a solid foundation. He wants to open a plumbing business in Brooklyn with his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) but fears failing his brother. This is further exacerbated by his family, which constantly looks down on him and his dream. Mario is driven to find his golden opportunity to prove himself.
Once the film switches to the familiar Mario fantasy worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser’s Castle, it loses its focus almost entirely. All of the ambition Mario becomes washed away by the film’s need to have slapstick sequences of Mario being flung around pipes, battling Donkey Kong with power-ups, and driving a go-kart on a rainbow road. In place of Mario’s plight are even more characters with less time and focus to develop their personalities. Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) is established as someone who was lost as a baby, but her fish-out-of-water aspects are barely present. Bowser (Jack Black) is a typical villain who only wants to rule kingdoms and marry Peach because he can. Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) has issues with his father that are so minimal that it’s a bit confusing how this was even a problem that had to be addressed.
Amid all the frantic action, an onslaught of Nintendo references crowds the screen to an absurd degree. While it’d be nice if the film had some clever references, they’re so forced into the foreground that they sometimes become exhausting. Within the first few minutes of meeting Mario, the introductory scene features musical references, Nintendo game references, and a cameo by Mario’s original voice actor. The Mario fan hoping this film would reward all their trivia will probably love these touches. Those wishing for a movie that is more than an Easter egg hunt may be dismayed by the film’s need to look for more parts of the property to cite than build up its characters and world. Mario’s video game history was never all that complex, but setting all these characters up and doing so little with them beyond tossing them into action sequences has a lacking nature.
There isn’t much surprise in The Super Mario Bros Movie, given the companies behind it. They’ve churned out a film that feels like a movie and more like an extended trailer for a Mario game, especially with how the film shuffles the camera for a platformer perspective. While that might be enough for some fans hoping for the bare minimum of acknowledging their favorite games, the whole experience comes off like a decent video game you don’t get to play.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.