It’s okay. I get it. It’s Mario and Luigi on the big screen, but, like, it actually looks like Mario and Luigi in a movie! I took my kids. We bought the popcorn. We found our seats among the ocean of other parents and children. My kids got their first dose of “why are there so many trailers?!” Then, the movie started. I kept my hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. In a flash, it ended and my kids seemed pretty happy with it. I had the good sense to just smile and nod in agreement.
(Expect some spoilers below, probably.)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie was destined for success just by virtue of doing anything that looked even remotely like the video game. I don’t want to talk much about the 1993 movie here. It belongs in a very different conversation about cult movies that has thankfully little to do with this newest adaptation. The one thing I will say is, looking at the reviews for this movie, any movie reviewer that decided to make some deluded hipster stance that this new offering somehow validates that the old one is “better” or any other nonsense saying they got it right the first time would do us all a favor to locate the nearest window and throw their keyboard out of it.
I went to this movie seeing the initial Rotten Tomato reviews. Low critic score, high audience score. This naturally makes one go into a movie with an attitude of “well these pretentious critics don’t know what they’re talking about. This movie is probably fine.” The reality is sadly closer to “these pretentious critics don’t know what they’re talking about and the movie isn’t really all that good for reasons the critics didn’t really hit on.” At least, that’s the sense I got from the original reviews I read. In any case, this doesn’t feel “rotten” but also doesn’t feel like a universal crowd-pleaser.
Your kids will enjoy it. They probably already have, based on the absurd box office returns. You’ll probably enjoy it well enough. You’ll probably get it on streaming in a few months, watch it again, and it’ll eventually fall into obscurity until the inevitable sequel. This isn’t a Pixar, make-you-cry-within-ten-minutes-as-payment-for-the-next-eighty-minutes-of-fun-and-drama movie. This is a roller coaster full of bright colors and “things you know” from the video games filling every frame of the animation. Lots of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods to generations of old Nintendo games. The movie moves from set piece to set piece at breakneck pace. “No time for a movie, we have to get to the next scene!” Additionally, there’s a bunch of nonsensical old pop music selections in the soundtrack that I guess Illumination thinks are being put there for the adults in the crowd, but my experience with each one of them was just JackieChanMakesTheFace.jpg.
A-Ha’s “Take On Me” is… out of place at best? I mean, the music video did feature some motorcycles in a comic book… and maybe Mario is supposed to be getting ready to “take on” Donkey Kong? But that’s not set up until the next scene so… I don’t know. The movie ends with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” which seems too much of a meta choice due to Chris Pratt being involved in this movie. I imagine most of the adults in the room were thinking “oh I guess because he was also in Guardians of the Galaxy? Wasn’t this the beginning of volume 2? Why is this happening in this movie?”
The plot is 30 years of Mario put into a blender and then hurled onto a canvas for you to feast your eyes upon. Bowser wants to marry Peach. This is something that got fully popularized in Super Mario Odyssey, but suspicions that this was the case were essentially confirmed way back in 1992 when a monthly comic installment to Nintendo Power started getting published. There were a few Mario-related comics done by someone calling themselves “Charlie Nozawa” (apparently actually Tamakichi Sakura) that I remember fondly and likely had a lot to do with Bowser’s and, oddly enough, Wario’s interpretations over time.
This movie is in such a hurry to do… everything that there’s not enough time for this revelation to be an amusing surprise. It’s just what it is. Bowser isn’t given time to really seem like a threat to anyone after the first scene, after which he more and more becomes his own comic relief.
Another thing that stood out to me was that even the legitimately cute moments were cut to 12 to 24 frames. Mario briefly appears as Cat Mario and even more briefly can be seen in this form “making biscuits” on top of Donkey Kong, but its on screen so shockingly briefly that I have to wonder why they bothered with it. Was it part of a slightly larger gag that got cut for time? Did the producers make the editors listen to the sound track on post “Hurry Up” double time while they were editing?
The Mario Bros. can handle anything as long as they’re together, which the movie isn’t interested in letting happen. There’s no emotional
Weege wedge between them that splits them apart so they can reconcile later to get the job done. Happenstance pulls them apart for most of the film and happenstance eventually brings them together so they can touch a magic star together and invincibly destroy Bowser’s army using the power of… that magic star that I guess Bowser didn’t want to use himself. There’s an utter lack of satisfaction if you’re looking for characters fighting through their own shortcomings in order to win the day. While the movie does manage to set up an (albeit flimsy) reasoning that Mario’s short stature is something he struggles with, the movie’s open acceptance of game mechanics essentially points him right at a way to circumvent it, rather than overcome it.
That’s maybe the most disappointing thing. There’s a huge feeling of “there was an attempt” when story boarding this. It very much feels like the end sequence was a first draft that got accepted too quickly. From a gamer perspective, there’s no Mario vs. Bowser fight that feels more dramatic than going in at full power, then getting clipped back down to 1×1 tiny Mario, only to eke out a victory as regular, not-at-all-super Mario. Normal Mario making it through impossible situations are the type of things that make grown adults choke on their own hearts. I’d much rather have seen an ending of the movie play out the same, with each hero getting knocked down to their normal selves and forced to triumph in spite of it. The movie doesn’t seem to see it that way, however, and the brothers are cheered on by their onlookers for successfully touching the right power up at the proper moment in order to remove all tension from the film.
None of that is really important. It looks really pretty. Your kids are going to enjoy it. This isn’t high art and it sadly didn’t need to be. The disappointment comes from knowing that this could have been something more than it was and it would have been just as successful, but when something is this much of a sure-fire winner, it’s far too easy to take that Rainbow Road of least resistance. You understand that, but your kids probably won’t for a few years, at least. Let them figure that out on their own. Remember when you went to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” or “Batman and Robin” in theaters? Remember that feeling of looking back and thinking “well that sure was a movie, but something doesn’t seem quite right”? I’m not saying this new Mario movie is worse than either of those, but the experience on repeat viewings is likely to be similar. This movie is so shiny it’s almost too perfect as an introduction to dissecting film. At least, once they’re ready for that sort of thing.