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Review: The Super Mario Bros Movie
A Brand New Film Based On The Video Game Franchise
While working underground to fix a water main, Brooklyn plumbers (and brothers) Mario and Luigi are transported down a mysterious pipe and wander into a magical new world. But when the brothers are separated, Mario embarks on an epic quest to find Luigi.
The last time we got a major feature-length film adapting the Super Mario Bros. series of video games was 1993’s Super Mario Bros., A movie that is near and dear to my heart as the first ever movie that I remember watching and being disappointed with. A big part of it being that I was a gamer then and spent my days playing nothing but Mario games; another part being that the movie just isn’t good at all - it may even be my least favorite movie from its respective year.
While I am by no means a gamer anymore, and have not kept up with Mario games much, I was still pretty excited for a new film adaptation. This time it would be an animated feature, and when news dropped that the voice cast would include a big ensemble of names like Chris Pratt, Charley Day, Anja Taylor Joy, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and Keegan-Michael Key among others, everyone on “Film Twitter” was busy already making memes mocking the film before we even got one image.
There’s been a lot said about the voice work in this sounding bad and out of tune with the games, and I was in agreement at first but as time has passed I’ve come to the defense of it. Given the circumstances and issues that can come with limited voice work translating from a video game to dialogue heavy voicework from a full-length film, I have to say I think this issue has been overblown. I’ll go one step further and say I think the voice work complaints that lead to so much mockery early on against this project hurt this movie in that some critics may have subconsciously gone into the movie ready to tear it down over its casting. But having seen it now, the voice work is nowhere near the biggest problem this film has. If anything I think the voice actors are doing their best with such limited material.
The movie’s biggest weakness is its horrible pacing which feels so rushed I kept wanting to pause the film and fill in gaps, which then takes us into how weak this script is in lacking any character development after a solid setup to the plot and making certain moments feel completely unearned. Its like they put so much focus into the crafting of the movie they didn’t even bother to come up with a coherent script with character arcs, or pacing things so that story beats could carry more emotional weight when they hit. In that sense this is going to end up a pretty forgettable film for some out there.
But I can’t pretend the movie doesn’t have its charms either. The animation is legitimately among the best I’ve ever seen. The score and soundtrack are solid, the former perhaps being the first really great one of the year. The Easter eggs for Mario super fans are fun and some callbacks had me either smiling or laughing a few times. There’s also this very impressive reverence for including the gameplay elements into the movie, making this feel like an honest-to-God true video game movie. Something many a video game adaptation to film have spectacularly failed at. And while the humor and tone of the movie could’ve been elevated to expand its audience reach, the kids at my screening were having an absolute blast with the film.
This has ended up one of those movies critics are very mixed on, with some bashing it among the worst of the early part of the year. And yet audiences have clearly connected well with it. So in one hand I think this has done its job for its target audience, it is easily one of the better put together animated films in terms of its art and the music accompanying it, and there’s easily moments in there that Mario fans will enjoy. But that doesn’t excuse its lack of cohesive narrative structure and character building. Overall I’d give The Super Mario Bros. Movie a just okay-ish B-, putting the film right in that border between a positive and negative review from me. Its got issues, but its charms seems to have worked wonders for many. Given a sequel is inevitable, I would love to see a much stronger script next go-around.