It’s taken a surprisingly long time for the ‘Super Mario Bros’ to make a delectable mark onto our cinema screens. The 1993 live action version ‘Super Mario Bros.’ is everything you’d expect from a hurriedly-made 90s blockbuster cash-in that was more interested in star power than any actual narrative symmetry. So now that the Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper movie is in the rear view mirror, we have a much more faithful adaptation that’s been made with the Nintendo fandom firmly in mind.
After launching their new plumbing business, Brooklyn-based brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) struggle to get any respect, either from their family or their former boss Spike (Sebastian Maniscalco). When a series of serious water leaks threaten to cause chaos across the city, Mario sees this as a great opportunity to help fix the problem and gain the respect of his family, so off the brothers go to help out. Once there, they go underground and come across a secret maze of pipes – and one that transports them to a magical land full of mushrooms, turtles and a Princess named Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) ready to go to war. Can Mario find his missing brother and help the Princess in her battle against the awesome forces of Bowser (Jack Black), looking to destroy everything in his path.
‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ looks amazing – it has exactly the right feel and look for a Nintendo faithful film and completely echoes the very best iterations of these beloved characters. Illumination, the ground-breaking animation house responsible for ‘The Minions’, have created a wonderfully warm and welcoming visual experience that is a joy to watch. There are so many easter eggs for avid fans of the plumbers to seek out, with a gorgeous attention to detail that utilises the best elements of decades worth of gaming, conjuring up some visually delightful set-pieces.
The high points are the way it transports the platform level gaming element into a 3D world, making every jump, punch, leap and kart spin feel like a natural extension of your gameplaying muscle-memory. The first time we see Princess Peach run the gauntlet is fantastic, including a beautifully-rendered sequence where she free-falls down some levels with the wind rushing through her hair and the camera angle taken from behind her jump, giving the viewer a very real sense of the drop. It’s a short sequence, but it showcases what ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ does very well throughout the film – it gives the viewer a proper sense of being directly ‘in’ the game, or in this case, the story.
The cast are all superb and make the film a very fun ride. Chris Pratt has taken a lot of unfair flack for being chosen as the voice for Super Mario, but he does a wonderful job. Alongside Charlie Day as Luigi, the two actors give our heroes some real personality and heart. There is also – I felt – a very clever way that they have addressed the ‘accent’ concern with the characters, and I thought that whole issue was dealt with quickly, easily and in a coherent way that actually makes sense to the plot at hand.
Elsewhere we have some wonderful ensemble talent in the form of Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach. She is no damsel in distress, and Peach is one of the best characters of the film that, again, perfectly captures the essence of the games character but brings it up to date. Keegan-Michael Key is funny as Toad, as is Fred Armisen and Seth Rogen as Cranky Kong and Donkey Kong, respectively. US stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco makes a welcome cameo as Spike, Khary Payton is entertaining as the Penguin King and Eric Bauza (as Toad General) and Scott Menville (as Koopa General) lead their armies in a humorous way.
Jack Black is the MVP of the whole movie though; he is sensational as the villain Bowser. Bringing all of his Tenacious D energy to the film, Bowser is a gloriously over-the-top villain who wants to win Peach’s hand in marriage. This leads to some hilarious sequences, including Black belting out some very memorable romantic rock ballads to try and woo his beloved. Stay for the end credits for even more musical mayhem from Bowser, who I also felt had some of the best lines in the film. Special mention also needs to go to Juliet Jelenic as a scene-stealing Lumalee, a cute but dark character that’s in Bowser’s prison who is on-hand to remind everyone of the futility of life and the imminent threat of death at every opportunity – but in a fun way!
‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is a fun family adventure, and a nice homage to the Nintendo legends. It looks wonderful and there’s some good humour in the film, but that doesn’t mask the fact that even at 92mins, the film is surprisingly sparce. I was expecting more narratively, especially given how much plot we’ve had from the likes of ‘Sonic’ recently. Also, Luigi is hardly in the film, spending most of the time captured, and that was disappointing. All that said, ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is still an entertaining ride that’s great for the Easter holiday distraction.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jack Black, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, Seth Rogen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Khary Payton, Eric Bauza, Scott Menville, Juliet Jelenic Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic Writer: Matthew Fogel Certificate: PG Duration: 92 mins Released by: Universal Release date: 5th April 2023