Movie Review: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

Director: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Charles Martinet, Kevin Michael Richardson

Plot: Brooklyn plumber Mario finds himself transported to a magical world in the brink of war. He sets out to rescue his brother Luigi from a tyrannical ruler.

Review: Well, it’s a Mario movie. You can’t claim otherwise, since its packed full of Mario characters and settings. There’s never been much depth to the world of Mario…but there’s been so much content over the years it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with an interesting story to go along with it. Maybe include some twists or hidden agendas to mix things up and keep people guessing. Unfortunately, when you strip back the aesthetic of Mario there’s next to nothing here.

It doesn’t feel like they worked from a script, instead a checklist of Mario and Nintendo references for fans to point out in the cinema. There’s the fish things, there’s pictures of Punch-Out characters, there’s some Yoshis, there’s a piece of music, there’s a kid with a shirt that says ’64’, there’s a book called ‘Galaxy’ with a picture of a Mario Galaxy level on it, there’s Duckhunt, there’s Jump Man, there’s Karts. You can spend all day and night rattling off the references that are sitting around in the background contributing nothing to the story or jokes. It’s a pity the checklist didn’t feature ‘characters’ or ‘narrative’, because this is sorely lacking even compared to the games.

Mario (Pratt) is particularly dull, being a protaganist with no agency or special skills needed to resolve the conflict. His only role in this story is to follow someone else as they actually drive the story. Mario enters the Mushroom Kingdom when he follows his brother Luigi (Day) into a mysterious pipe, then he follows the first person he meets, Toad (Key), who takes him to the palace where he meets Peach (Taylor-Joy). Then he follows Peach to Donkey Kong’s (Rogen) kingdom where she seeks out an army, then he follows Donkey Kong to get back for the final confrontation. Despite taking the time to establish that Mario is good at parkour in Brooklyn, it turns out he’s completely useless and can only continue the adventure with the use of power-ups that are accessible to everyone else in this world. The way they talk about Mario you’d expect some kind of Chosen One prophecy to turn up, or a connection to another character reveal, but there’s nothing tying him to the conflict in this world. When you can entirely remove the main character without changing the story, you need to rethink your script.

It turned out there was one weird detail that made an already lazy movie feel especially lazy, and I’m sure this is something that no-one else gave any thought to. When Peach and Mario arrive in the Donkey Kong land, they ride on the back of a motorbike while ‘Take On Me’ by Ah-Ha plays on the soundtrack. While watching this scene I thought it weird that we’d seen the exact same thing happen in Teen Titans Go To The Movies. Same song, same type of vehicle…it was a bit odd seeing this same thing play out again. Getting home from the movie, I looked up key crew members to find out more about them and discovered that this is the second feature film from Aaron Horvath, his first being Teen Titans Go To The Movies. So little time and care was taken with this script that the director lifted an entire sequence from his one other movie and just assumed no-one would notice. He didn’t even pick a different song. Is ‘Take On Me’ played over a motorcycle montage a weirdly complicated signature style for this guy?

I know that Illumination head Chris Meldandri has a business model based on low budgets and quick turn-around, but they couldn’t even find a different nostalgic classic to put on. It’s right up there with Illumination characters not having nostrils.

Where the movie picks up is when we cut to Bowser (Black) preparing his grand plan to invade the Mushroom Kingdom and propose marriage to Princess Peach. It’s mostly just Black and Richardson as Kamek bouncing off each other, and it’s very funny. Bowser getting soppy writing songs and practising what he’s going to say produced the biggest laughs. There could be more here is Mario and Bowser had anything to do with each other. They don’t meet until when into the third act, and Mario seems disinterested in this warmongering villain in general.

Die-hard Mario fans who only want to see their favourite characters rendered in high-definition on the big screen are going to find more to enjoy here. There’s endless nods not only to this game series, but retro Nintendo properties in general. Everything looks the way it should and each set piece brings another iconic location to life. It’s just a shame that they were satisfied producing this rather than trying to do something that feels fresh like The Lego Movie did. Nobody will ever say that the 1993 live action movie is a better movie, but we’re still talking about what a weird experience that was 30 years later. It’s hard to imagine this animated offering being anything more than a footnote when looked back on decades from now.

Rating: THREE out of TEN