Let’s talk about The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
What is the definitive video game? By that I mean, what’s the video game you think of when the phrase video game comes up? Do you think of the falling blocks of Tetris? Is the demon killing of Doom? Or are you way too young and it’s the bright colours and battle royales of Fortnite? For me, it’s probably Super Mario Bros. The first game I ever played was Super Mario Land on the Game Boy and I would play the original Super Mario Bros over and over again. The Mario franchise would stick with me for a long time. I’d play Super Mario World in that creche type place in Meadowhall. I played Super Mario 64 in Sheffield Children’s Hospital when I had broken my leg. And I have continued to play these games. There has been a movie before, but it was awful. So now here is the second attempt to get it right.
Mario and Luigi are in New York City trying to make their new plumbing business work. While trying to fix pipes that are flooding the city, they inadvertently end up in a green one and land in the Mushroom Kingdom which is under threat from Bowser.
You get the feeling this is a film with its heart in the right place from the opening moments. It starts with Bowser’s flying volcano ship descending on the Penguin kingdom. You’ll know the Penguins from Super Mario 64 and then the Bowser’s Castle music starts playing and it’s like you’re home again. And the score does this again and again. It mixes in so many classic Super Mario Bros themes into a working, fantastic soundtrack. It never feels like it’s pandering to you either. The music completely fits and it’s just wonderful to hear it in such epic orchestral form. We all know the Super Mario Bros music is iconic and has been such a strength of the series for a long time, but this film remixing so many classics and knowing there’s some they have left shows you how strong the series music has always been.
And if you are a Mario fan, there are so many easter eggs for you to enjoy. In the first scene with Mario there are so many. A man outfitted like Jumpman, Mario’s original name, is in there playing Donkey Kong, the original game Mario played in. We encounter Spike, the manager of Wrecking Crew, a company Mario and Luigi used to work for. This was an NES game that Mario featured in back in the 1980s! Then it all takes place in the Punch-Out Pizzeria, named after a boxing game on the NES that yes, featured Mario, this time as the referee. And I’ve spoiled you those, but there’s at least a thousand more. I was probably a little distracted in all honesty because I went into easter egg hunt mode, looking at every corner of the screen looking to see what else I might spot. I think almost every Mario game is referenced at some point, and the exceptions are things like Hotel Mario. Then again, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if someone found a reference to that CD-I atrocity in here.
But what about the actual movie? Well, it’s just some good quality fun. It’s a bunch of funny characters getting together to defeat a funny villain. Chris Pratt may be the internet’s latest villain, and I’m still not really sure what he did wrong other than appear in a lot of movies, but he does a great job as Mario. After first proving he can do the traditional Mario voice to just to spite the haters, he settles into an Italian-American accent which is enjoyable throughout the movie. Trust me, if you had got Charles Martinet to do the whole thing, you’d have been sick of it in the ten minutes. A video game voice actor is different to a movie voice actor. There’s a lot of other great voice work as well, though I have to throw all the plaudits to Jack Black who makes Bowser damn right lovable. Who’d have thought you could make a giant turtle lizard who’s hell bent on forcing a princess to marry him into something so sympathetic?
It is just generally very lively throughout. While the film starts off fairly slowly while it’s still in New York, other than a slapstick routine involving a sink and a vengeful dog that looks like it’s come out of The Secret Life of Pets, when it gets to the Mushroom Kingdom it really picks up the pace. It remains faithful to the games, even making platforming a key part of it before moving into Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart type set pieces, and delivers plenty of funny moments which will keep adults and children entertained. It’s not perfect though. It is a very familiar movie as it goes through plenty of tired clichés and well-used story tropes. Some of them it doesn’t even really try with, like the various daddy issues both Mario and Donkey Kong share. It was probably a bigger part of an older script, but it feels very underdeveloped. There’s a few threads in this movie which get a light touch treatment which stop it being more interestingly narratively.
The Super Mario Bros Movie is probably the best possible film version of the popular video game franchise. This is not a series that lends itself well to movies, it has the thinnest of plots which usually revolve around ‘Save the Princess from the Giant lizard’. But what Illumination have done with this movie is take the franchise, make an engaging enough plotline to keep it going while also filling it with so many jokes and easter eggs you won’t really notice that you have seen most of these plot devices done better in other movies. It’s great fun and will see you playing one of the classics when you get home for sure.