Published on April 5th, 2023 | by Harris Dang

The Super Mario Bros. Movie – Film Review

Reviewed by Harris Dang on the 5th of April 2023
Universal Pictures presents a film by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Produced by Charles Meledandri, Shigeru Miyamoto
Starring Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Keegan Michael-Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet, and Kevin Michael Richardson
Running Time: 92 minutes
Rating: G
Release Date: the 6th of April 2023

Set in present-day Brooklyn, The Super Mario Bros. Movie tells the story of the titular Italian brothers, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day). They are two struggling plumbers striving to be the best they can be as they desperately try to get their plumbing business up and running. After one disastrous failure on their first call, the two brothers are down in the dumps.

However, a burst water main is shown on broadcast news, which leads the brothers down the sewers to fix the problem and to save Brooklyn. But the burst water main is the least of their problems once they discover a water pipe that transports them into another world on the brink of destruction from the evil Bowser (Jack Black). In a serendipitous fashion, the brothers and their new allies, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Toad (Keegan Michael-Key), must save the day.

Due to the success of recent video game adaptations, mainly the HBO television series The Last of Us (2023), many have declared the videogame adaptation ‘curse’ is dead. With the rise of videogame creators now having major involvement in these adaptations, faithfulness in the source material is at an all-time high. Giving the fans what they want is the unspoken yet well-known credo. But is this mindset the same type of excess that can produce involving, cinematic storytelling?


Case in point, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. From the marketing material, the animation from Illumination Studios looks remarkably faithful to the source material and the musical score by Brian Tyler pays loving homage to the memorable themes by Koji Kondo. The settings, sound effects, and easter eggs are all accurately recreated and should please fans of the game series. If that is what one is looking for in this film, you are in for a treat. However, reaping much fan service comes at a huge cost and it is that same cost that sends the film down the tubes.

The price to be paid for the high volume of easter eggs and fan service is a severe lack of narrative. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the type of film(?) that would leave plausibility and logic gagged and tied up in a dingy sewer somewhere. Speaking of sewers, the story is merely a flimsy excuse for the filmmakers to string along a series of moments where fans will point moment after moment of game imagery and homage to the point where the droning tedium sets in.

When the tedium strikes that is when you start questioning everything, particularly the world-building and the characterisations. How is it that a gorilla kingdom that lives in huts also has access to futuristic technology such as super-dooper go-karts? How is it that citywide destruction has very little effect on the mortality of the people in Brooklyn? In a videogame, that type of logic would make much better sense. In a film, it is jarring and uninviting.

Even when the film does not focus on fan service, the experience does not improve. The very same insistence also applies to the filmmakers’ attempts to be timely and hip with its target audience. The worst examples include the poor implementation of needle drops, which range from being extremely dated to widely out-of-place soundtrack choices. ‘Take on Me’ by A-ha was already used in the filmmakers’ previous film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018), which underlines the lack of creativity. Meanwhile, ‘Battle Without Honour or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei from Kill Bill (2003) is another example. Not only is the selection downright primitive due to it being extremely overused, but the reference will likely be lost on young kids.

Speaking of “doesn’t get,” the voice cast assembled here sound completely lost in portraying their characters(?). We have the experienced actors such as Seth Rogen, Charlie Day, Keegan Michael-Key, and Jack Black showing a certain level of enthusiasm. However, you never feel they are playing the characters as they are simply portraying slight variations of their public personas. Hell, Jack Black as Bowser even sings several times! Then we have actors like Chris Pratt and Anya Taylor-Joy who are so out of their depth they sound like they are reading the script as opposed to acting it out.

There is a joke in the film featuring its lead characters employing faux Italian accents in a plumbing commercial, which is meant to parody fan expectations of the vocal talents. But it makes you wish they continued using the accents because at least it would give the actors an ongoing trait to utilise. Therein lies the conundrum: are the roles poorly played because the actors are inexperienced? Or is it because the characters are so bereft of depth and development that not even Victor Frankenstein and Jesus could bring them to life? Pick your poison mushroom.

With its suffocating reverence to its source material, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is unfathomably incapable of guile. It does not even feel fair to judge it as a movie because it does not even feel like one. It feels like a feature-length advertisement for Nintendo, a suggestion reinforced by the film closing with images of the Nintendo Entertainment System during the end credits. For fans, it will suffice but fan service and Easter eggs do not make a compelling movie.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie – Film Review Harris Dang

Summary: With its suffocating reverence to its source material, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is unfathomably incapable of guile. It feels like a feature-length advertisement for Nintendo.



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