Thursday, 1 June 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Look, whether we want to or not, we can all remember the last time that The Super Mario Bros. were presented in movie form. It wasn’t exactly great, and it wasn’t exactly embraced by audiences. So trying again, but this time in animated form, isn’t a bad thing. And my opinion on this is already fairly redundant, considering the amount of money that this has taken at the global box office. But here it is anyway.

The plot is quite simple. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are two New York plumbers who end up heading down a pipe that takes them through to a whole new world. Luigi lands in the Dark Lands and is almost immediately imprisoned by goons working for the warmongering Bowser (Jack Black). Mario, having landed in a much nicer area, the Mushroom Kingdom, befriends Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), who ends up taking him to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), the person who may be best-equipped to help him reunite with his brother. Meanwhile, a major battle is looming. The odds for our heroes might be boosted if they can enlist the help of Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen).

Although there’s only one man responsible for the script here, Matthew Fogel, due credit should go to everyone who has every helped develop any of the multitude of Mario videogames. While squarely aimed at a very young audience, with the animation style, bright colours, and cute characters, a lot of little references are sprinkled throughout every scene to appeal to those well-versed with the history of the most famous adventuring plumber in the world. The plot is simple though, as simple as most of the games, and really just feels like an excuse to put together some moments that feel like sizzle reels or adverts for the latest instalments in the series (watch Mario attempt an obstacle course run, watch Mario jump up various platforms and use pipes to get quickly to the top of a new area, watch vehicles drive along in a Mario Kart section).

It’s surprising that four people are named as directors and co-directors on this. Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have some fun Teen Titans Go! in their recent past, and Pierre Leduc and Fabien Polack seem to be loyal Illumination staff being rewarded for their work on other projects. All they really have to do is cut and paste things together, or so it would seem, and the real highlights come from the times when the score references some videogame music cues (any time Bowser is at the piano is a real treat).

Pratt and Day are fine in their roles, I guess, but they’re certainly not overflowing with authenticity, from the accents to the shoehorned-in catchphrases. It could have been anyone in these roles, which makes it irritating that Pratt and Day landed them, however you feel about both movie stars. Things are better elsewhere though, with Key and Taylor-Joy feeling much better suited to the characters they are voicing. Black is the star though, so much fun as Bowser, in terms of both the dialogue he gets and how he delivers it, that it’s enough to make up for Seth Rogen playing Donkey Kong as Seth Rogen. You may already have heard the song about Princess Peach, but it’s the best part of the film, and one I could happily watch repeated on a loop without having to revisit anything else here.

I can see why this has done so well, and there are a few wonderful supporting characters that I have failed to mention (including one hilariously nihilistic, but cute, prisoner held in a cage alongside Luigi), but this just felt too bland and uninventive to me. As flawed as the live action movie is, and I would never make a case for it being any kind of misunderstood classic, it at least had people working on it who didn’t just throw together a “greatest hits” selection of gaming moments. And I will remember the weirdness in that film more often than I will remember anything from this.


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