Folks have been having all sorts of emotional turmoil about this new Super Mario Bros. Movie since the moment it was announced that Guardians of the Galaxy and Lego Movie star Chris Pratt would provide the voice of Mario. All that gnashing of teeth was for nothing, though. The Super Mario Bros.. Movie is both pretty funny and also just plain pretty–this movie is a feast for the eyes.
This adventure begins in Brooklyn, with a pair of brothers whose family plumbing business is–despite a stellar local TV ad featuring the Super Mario Bros.. Super Show theme–struggling. A brother-and-brother plumbing outfit? In this economy? Forget about it.
Fortunately, these normal-life problems are pretty quickly forgotten when Mario and Luigi venture deep into the sewers to try to figure out why Brooklyn’s streets are spontaneously filling with water. They discover a weirdly intricate structure that goes deep underground, but before they can explore it fully, Mario steps into the wrong pipe and is transported to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Luigi, unfortunately, ends up in Bowser’s Dark Land and then, in short order, Bowser’s dungeon. So Luigi is the damsel in distress, and it’s up to Mario and Peach to save him and all the other people/things that Bowser might like to do bad things with. And since Bowser was already in the process of conquering the universe at the start of this movie, there are plenty of people/things that he plans to do bad things with.
Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, needs to unite everyone else around who might be threatened by Bowser’s never-ending war of conquest. Who else is there to even unite, you may ask? Well, there’s a whole country full of Kongs who would be handy in a fight.
If it sounds like Mario is taking a backseat in his own movie, don’t worry. While it may seem like Peach is the real main character of the Super Mario Bros. Movie, that’s like calling Thorin Oakenshield the main character of The Hobbit. Yes, I’m saying that Mario in this movie is pretty much Bilbo Baggins–a short guy who everybody underestimates because he never seems to be that important or have many practical skills, but who has a penchant for being in the right place at the right time and pulling off clever surprises. He’s the wild card.
As for Chris Pratt’s performance as Mario: He’s fine. He’s just as good at being the likable white guy here as he usually is, and he’s usually funny when he’s supposed to be.
That’s pretty much how it goes across the board for the voice talent. Nobody is bad, and they’re all funny when they need to be in basically the ways you would expect. Seth Rogen plays Donkey Kong like he’s a Seth Rogen character in a stoner movie. Bowser, likewise, pretty much just is Jack Black, complete with a musical number that sounds like a Tenacious D ballad. Nothing to complain about there, certainly–like most of the jokes in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the song is funny! But it’s not too funny. It’s normal funny.
But this isn’t a movie that needs to rely on the charms of its voice talent for success. Honestly, it works even better as an adventure flick than it does as a comedy, because it’s got several incredibly well-crafted action sequences that absolutely blew me away.
The Mario Kart Rainbow Road sequence that you’ve seen glimpses of in the trailers and other ads is one that folks will talk about a lot, but it’s just one of a few stellar sequences that make The Super Mario Bros. Movie rate alongside Into the Spider-Verse as a visual experience. It’s not as good as Into the Spider-Verse overall, but there’s a similar quality to the craftsmanship.
And a big part of that is the philosophy behind the adaptation. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is chock-full of Easter eggs and other references to the decades of Mario-related content. But since our enjoyment of Mario as an IP isn’t really plot-related, the filmmakers were able to incorporate everything into the aesthetic of the world.
Take, for example, a scene in the middle of the movie where Mario and Peach have a heartfelt chat under a tree, at night, in a rolling field full of Fire Flowers. It’s a shot that looks incredible in its own right–the Flowers are just a bonus for those who care. Likewise, we’ve got several platforming sequences that are direct nods to the gameplay of the Mario series, but they’re so well done and cool to watch that they don’t feel obligatory, even though they definitely were obligatory.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie never feels reverent of the Mario IP, but it’s also never disrespectful. It’s a spot that might not have worked if the film weren’t so well put together–fortunately for us, though, The Super Mario Bros., could end up being one of the best big-budget action flicks of the year.