Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Film Review)

4 min read

It's unsurprising that turned to to faithfully bring their beloved flagship characters to life. Whilst the studio responsible for Despicable Me and everyone's favourite/hated Minions isn't exactly revered for their quality films, they know how to produce monster hits with audiences at the box office. This partnership between the game developer and animation studio has produced predictable results: The Bros. Movie is a vibrant, if paper-thin, rollercoaster that is going to dominate multiplexes. 

Let's get the internet controversies out of the way. The voice acting is dismissible across the board, with Jack Black's Bowser standing out. Whilst it is sort of addressed why the core cast don't have their iconic voices, it's still jarring at how normal and unremarkable the performances are. You do acclimatise to them by the end of the first act, but even if Illumination wanted to take the characters into new directions they would have got better results from actual voice actors rather than Hollywood A-listers. 

Back to the story – what there is of it anyway. (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are plumbers working in Brooklyn trying to make a name for themselves on one particular job in the sewers when they inadvertently get sucked into a pipe that separates them and spits them out into the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario teams up with Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) to save Luigi, who has been captured by Bowser. Turns out the big bad lizard wants to rule the world, so the colourful characters enlist the help of other iconic Mario characters in their effort to save not just Luigi but the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond.

The narrative breezes by in an hour and a half, which is both a blessing and a curse. The themes and character arcs are as bare bones as a Dry Bones; set up in an agonisingly obvious way before quickly resolving them without tact or fanfare before the credits roll. Unlike other western animated features of late, there's zero emotion for any of the characters here. The story is simply a means to bounce between each reference-laden setting and set piece, which makes the whole thing feel rushed and undercooked. 

Luigi looking scared whilst locked in a cage
Universal Pictures

All of this is a shame because there are hints of something truly special. Visually, it really is Illumination's best work yet. With Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto on board as producer, it could well be that Nintendo were breathing down the necks of everyone at Illumination to get every detail right, but the results are remarkable. The Mushroom Kingdom and other iconic locales have been lovingly rendered and brought to life in vivid colours and bouncy animation. Designs of characters, items and locations take details from different games and fuse them into something recognisable albeit fresh. And if there is something Illumination has always been good at, it's the background references and gags, which come in abundance here. 

Fans will be itching to watch The Super Mario Bros. Movie again and again just to catch every easter egg and reference. Every frame is packed with callbacks to the different Mario games; some obvious, some only the most diehard fans will understand. As a lifelong Mario and Nintendo player, but not a super fan per se, it was fun seeing so many moments faithfully recreated or cleverly alluded to, but it causes concern for how much non-gamers and those unfamiliar with Mario will get out of this film. One nostalgic element that will certainly work for everyone is the music by Brian Tyler. Tyler cleverly takes Konji Kondo's legendary themes and music and masterfully incorporates them into pivotal moments, highlighting the whimsy and adventurous score. 

If there's one thing clear from this review so far, it is that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is mostly hindered by Illumination's usual issues. Beside the lacklustre story, there are far too many self-referential jokes that undercut the tone and setting (as well as just being unfunny), and a heavy reliance on licensed pop music. A-ha's Take On Me playing as characters drive a kart through Kong's jungle kingdom is a worse feeling than being taken out by a blue shell in first place on Mario Kart. If there is a saving grace, however, it's Bowser. Pairing amazing design and animation with a genuinely great performance from Black, the king koopa is as hilarious as he is unpredictably threatening. It helps that he gets a killer musical number too. 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie will surely delight fans and younger audiences with its faithful and colourful visuals. It's just disappointing that Mario, Luigi and the gang have to settle for something so mediocre, particularly when big-budget western animation has seen incredible features from Sony and Dreamworks. There will no doubt be a sequel down the line, so here's hoping Illumination takes a page from their book and not only evolve the visuals but the storytelling too.    

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is out now in cinemas.