Super Mario Bros. Movie Review – A foundation setting film that has a lot to cram in before the franchise can truly flourish on the big screen

In many ways the decades without another attempt at cashing in on a Super Mario movie was admirable, it felt like we were waiting for the right time. Now I find myself asking, is 2023 the right time?

We’re at a stage where video game design and CGI in cinema have both made incredible leaps. Video game cutscenes often feel like they’re of the standard of a TV show at the very least. When the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie suffered a huge amount of backlash, due to it’s original design for the blue hero, it showed just how tricky it can be to get it right. I believe that Detective Pikachu, and eventually Sonic the Hedgehog, both successfully pull off the “cartoon characters in the real world” look, and when I first heard about Mario jumping back onto the silver screen, I wondered if this stylistic approach would also be the one used by Nintendo and Illumination.

The 1993 movie of pretty much the same name, ended up going down the live-action route. It wouldn’t be too much of a departure from history, if this modern telling of Mario and Luigi was going to fit somewhere in the middle, just like their video game counterparts have done so in recent years. Instead the movie makers decided to have their effort look closer to that of the style of the video games that they were based on (well, the more modern releases at least).

Stylistically I think they chose well. The movie looks fantastic, the animation and the character models feel authentic and begs the questions as to why there hasn’t been a video game tie in for this movie.

The movie plot is an obvious one for the most part. Mario is trying to save the day by helping Princess Peach evade the madly in-love Bowser, whilst also trying to find his brother and partner in crime.

There are plenty of references towards the franchise’s huge back catalogue of games which will help fans instantly feel at home. Not only this, but we also get references to other pieces of Nintendo heritage, such as “Punch Out” in the form of a pizza joint and the GameCube start-up jingle as Luigi’s ringtone.

Earlier, I spoke about the initial questions I had when it came to the presentation of this movie, and whether or not it would have a “real life” aspect to it. Well, it kind of does. Mario and Luigi are living in a somewhat realistic version of Brooklyn, but it’s one that stylistically suits the character models. It’s not until they enter into a warp pipe that we start to explore places within the Mushroom World. I think this was a handy way of fitting in familiar iconic locations that are so varying in style, which could have otherwise have had the potential to create a stumbling block for connecting the dots between such ranging video game references.

The casting was one of the things that I was most intrigued about. You could not escape the Chris Pratt memes when he was first announced as the actor who would be portraying the iconic Italian plumber. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the news at the time and I genuinely thought it was an unrealistic rumour. I just couldn’t see how the casting would make any sense, surely it could have been given to Charles Martinet? The man who has voiced the character on dozens of Mario projects since the early 90s. Whilst I do still feel that way about Martinet getting his shot at Hollywood, I also understand the casting of a “big name” for this blockbuster. I have to be honest, I think Pratt was fantastic in this role.

Charlie Day was another intriguing casting decision for me. I love his work in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Horrible Bosses, Charlie has a very distinctive voice and delivery pattern but it works very well with this portrayal of Luigi. Speaking of recognisable voices, Seth Rogan plays Donkey Kong in a way that very much does make you aware of the actor behind the role, but I do think it was also a nice fit for the character. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a spin-off movie with Rogan in the leading role.

In the next bit of familiar voice acting, we are introduced to Jack Black as the voice of Bowser. While it’s the laugh of Rogan that makes him so recognisable, it’s the over-the-top theatrical rock vocals that remind you of the School of Rock lead and Tenacious D frontman. Bowser’s love for Peach and the inevitable songs that come from his fixation are much welcomed additions to the film. While you would have to be crazy to cast Jack Black in a comedic role and not use his singing voice in some way, it could be argued that he steers the character too far into the “this is just the actor playing themselves” territory. The songs were fun though and I do think they were woven into the story quite well.

Anya Taylor-Joy lends her voice for a fiery portrayal of the Princess, that is bound to inspire a new generation of Mario Kart enthusiasts on character selection screens for years to come. It’s a character whose presentation could be a hard one to nail down with keyboard warriors at the ready, but I personally think they did a great job.

There are bound to be plans for direct sequels to this movie and with that in mind, you have to imagine that it will be the time for the creators to truly flex their creative muscles. The first movie had a lot to do and it was always going to have to walk that fine line between starting something new, and pleasing the franchise’s huge multi-generational fanbase. I feel like this is something that Ghostbusters Afterlife also had to contend with, you almost have to get the references out of the way before you can move onto your real creative vision. There is a lot of the Mario universe that needs to be established within one movie, and I feel like projects like these are sometimes hampered by history that’s already been established elsewhere.

I’m all for the nostalgic fan service and fun hat tipping references, but I do think the pressure and necessity to please those fans does hold the movie back. There wasn’t much room for anything else and the movie felt like it had no depth. I’m not exactly looking for dialogue straight out of a Scorsese gangster flick, or the kind of head scratching a Christopher Nolan film can often bring, but it needed a little something extra in my opinion. The pacing feels a little off for the most part and is more akin to a TV show. We are thrusted into the main part of the plot pretty quickly and it doesn’t really peak nor dip throughout and before you know it, you’re waiting for the post-credit scenes.

Super Mario Bros. is a fun watch and that’s all it really needs to be. I’m looking forward to seeing what a sequel and potential spin-offs could bring, especially for the chance to see how the team bring their own visions to this version of the Mario story. There are some fantastic performances from a loaded cast of voice actors, each of them strong enough to justify being a leading role if movie goers should want them to branch out.

My big fear for this film was that it’s timing would play a part in some almost inevitable harsh criticism. We’ve seen what waiting decades can do for expectations, with films such as the newer Star Wars entries in the 2010’s, and even other video game adaptations that would eventually feel out of place by the time they were given a go at the big screen. I have seen some complaints about this film, but for me it was mostly what I had hoped for. An easy watch, a nostalgia trip and an introduction for the next generation.