Friday, April 7, 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023): A Review



I never played video games, though Mario Brothers is so dominant in the culture that you just have to play first seven notes of the original game, and everyone recognizes it. This newest film adaptation of the game is pleasant enough: kid-friendly, not deep, but with enough charm to entertain.

Struggling Brooklyn plumbers Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are finally breaking out with their new plumbing business when they find themselves swept away into a fantastical universe. Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom, where Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) rules benevolently over the Mushroom Toad people. Luigi, a far more frightened person, ends up in the Dark Lands, ruled by the evil Bowser (Jack Black). 

Bowser, determined to rule this universe and marry Peach, has already taken the all-powerful Super Star as a bargaining chip over Peach. Peach decides to ask for the Kong Kingdom to join in an alliance against Bowser and his Koopas, bringing Mario and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) with her. King Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) won't join unless a champion can defeat his son, Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen). Mario, determined to help rescue Luigi, takes the challenge.

Eventually, Bowser arrives at the Mushroom Kingdom to pressure Peach for the marriage. Will Peach be forced to join in this unholy union, or will Mario and Luigi join forces to save both their worlds?

As family films go, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is inoffensive and pleasant. Cute is the best word to describe the film, and there is nothing wrong with that. As I saw the audience, particularly children, I saw that they found the adventures of Mario and Luigi a fun frolic. 

On certain levels, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is not original. It even devolves into some bad cliches. This is the second film this year where Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero is played over a montage (Shazam! Fury of the Gods being the other). The film opts for using the soundtrack to fill in whatever passes for plot. Using a-ha's Take On Me and AC/DC's Thunderstruck for montages is a pretty simple way to set mood.

One also wonders about the plotline of Bowser wanting to marry Peach. It might have been funnier if it had come out of nowhere versus being out there from the start. 

The film also puts in plugs for potential sequels, which undercuts the film itself. We get hints about Peach's origins and end with Mario and Luigi going through a drainpipe either to travel to their world from the Mushroom Kingdom or for other adventures. 

Still, as I think on the film itself, I find more positives than negatives. Explanations were given for the lack of Italian accents (it's a promotional gimmick, though to be fair, if the brothers are Brooklyn born-and-raised, why would they have Italian accents to begin with). The voice cast was uniformly good. Pratt was pleasant as Mario, playing the stabs at drama with a wonder at the world he was in. Day brings that nervous, frightened manner to Luigi, and Taylor-Joy brings confidence to Princess Peach without slipping into "girl-boss" mode. Key's Toad will delight kids with his perky manner.

The film is colorful, and even the curious nature of Lumalee, the Luma whose cheerful pessimism is funny in its misery. Forever speaking words so sad with an upbeat voice, the character ends with what sounds like a sad note while still keeping to an almost cute manner. 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie has perhaps one too many slow-motion moments to emphasize the action but given that the film aims for nothing more than to entertain kids and their parents, it can be forgiven. Pleasant, cute and self-aware without winking at the audience, The Super Mario Bros. Movie will entertain the kids when it inevitably finds itself on permanent rotation at your local daycare. 


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