The best and worst bits of The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Everything we heard about The Super Mario Bros. Movie prior to its release ranged from the bizarre to the frustrating. Fans lamented at the casting of Chris Pratt in the title role when Charles Martinet, who has been playing Mario for over two decades, is both alive and working, while other performances, like Jack Black as Bowser, have fit in surprisingly well in the cartoonish world created by the games.

As silly as it is to bring an all-star cast into a movie abut a video game plumber, there are moments where The Super Mario Bros. Movie works. Not usually well enough to be considered “great” but certainly enough to be called fun.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s successes and failures

The Super Mario Bros. Movie Mario and Luigi

Most reviewers have panned the movie for its paper-thin plot and uneven performances, but those are just part of the Mario experience. I’m not going to pretend that the story has ever been a central or consistent part of the franchise, so seeing Mario get isekaied into the Mushroom Kingdom from his home in Brooklyn was perfectly in line with my expectations for this film.

Going into The Super Mario Bros. Movie knowing it is a big budget children’s movie, made by the company behind Despicable Me and the horrendous Minions films, will help temper your expectations to an appropriate level. Frustratingly, it feels like an Illumination film, with needless insert songs that feel out of place in both the action and the world created. Why they insisted on throwing songs like Take on Me into a scene instead of using the incredible Donkey Kong Country soundtrack is beyond me.

What is more infuriating about these songs is that they feel lazy, especially when the rest of the soundtrack is so good. Mario has one of the most recognisable soundtracks in video game history, with music that is as much a part of the series as his hat and overalls. When the soundtrack to The Super Mario Bros. Movie puts that history to the forefront, it does a great job of weaving the music through the scenes. The music shifting when the brothers go underground or when they get the Super Star gave me such a rush of joy.

The easter eggs within the movie are the other highlight and likely the only thing that will keep older gamers interested. Some are obvious, like Peach’s Castle being exactly like the castle in Super Mario 64 or Bowser’s Floating Fortress resembling his base from many of the games, but there are some fun ones in the background to spot. A Duck Hunt themed bar or seeing the brothers in Punch-Out Pizza, as silly as they are, offered something to keep me paying attention to when it became clear that all the best jokes were already shown in the trailer.

As much as Illumination wanted desperately to stick to their tried-and-true formula for making the most money off their films for as little effort as possible, someone in the animation department clearly loved Mario enough to make sure that at least some of the sequences resembled the games. When the action shifts to a side view and we see Mario and Luigi running, jumping, and avoiding enemies, the movie looks gorgeous. There are just enough familiar elements to these platforming sections that they felt true to what Mario has always been about.

Aside from Jack Black as Bowser and Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach, the rest of the cast is generic and unoffensive. Neither Pratt nor Seth Rogan, who plays the most dude-bro version of Donkey Kong we’ve ever seen, are memorable in their roles, but they aren’t offensively bad either. The character who delivers the most heartfelt performance is probably Mario’s dad, who is exactly as disappointed in his sons at the start of the movie as every father who thinks his sons are throwing their lives away.

It probably isn’t a surprise that this delivery is given by Charles Martinet, defiantly injecting heart into a scene early in the movie after seeing the Mario role go to someone who did so little with it.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it isn’t helped by Illumination’s formulaic approach to filmmaking or a cast that don’t do enough to bring their iconic characters to life. It is the easter eggs, music, and throwbacks to the character’s platforming roots that save the movie from mediocrity and make it a fun, if shallow, viewing experience.

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