The Super Mario Bros Movie (Review) – an imagination-free wasteland

The Super Mario Bros Movie is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

The Super Mario Bros Movie is a case in point for why extreme fandom shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near storytelling. It is vacuous in its creative ability and gluttonous in its nostalgic dependency. Nostalgia works in small doses, but when it is the only thing you have, you have no hope of creating anything meaningful beyond a temporary serotonin spike.

Based on the legendary game franchise, The Super Mario Bros Movie is an animated feature brought to us by Nintendo and Illumination. We meet wannabe plumbers Mario and Luigi (Chris Pratt and Charlie Day), who are often portrayed as Italian but are based in Brooklyn. When attempting to fix a burst water main, they are somehow sucked into the Mushroom Kingdom, a society ruled by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). The brothers are quickly separated, with Luigi ending up in the clutches of Bowser (Jack Black), an evil turtle who wants to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. To save his brother, Mario, Peach and a recognisable roster of Nintendo characters team up to defeat Bowser.

The film attempts to replicate the hero’s journey that the original game was based on, as the 8-bit hero rescues Peach. The difference this time is that Luigi is the damsel in distress. Yet to call the execution bare-boned would be a courtesy. While the narrative works in theory, in practice, it is an insipid PowerPoint presentation of Easter Eggs and references to other Mario properties. Mario KartMario Galaxyand Mario Odyssey – all feature here, often as significant plot points. They are connected only by thin threads, designed purely so fans can point and go, “Ohhh”.

You could say nobody plays the Mario games for the story, and you’d have a point. But this isn’t a video game. It’s a narrative feature film. If you don’t have a focused narrative journey to your hero’s story – be it the character arcs, themes, or genuine emotional reasons to invest – then you have nothing for the audience to care about outside of recognisable trademarks. You have to ask what stops people from staying at home and just playing the games. After all, it’ll give them legitimate glee without forking out over ten quid per movie ticket.

References, be it to Luigi’s MansionDonkey Kong and others, are this movie’s only selling point. It’s so preoccupied with fan servicing that every byte of the screen becomes an advertisement rather than a film. The plot is constructed like a game of Connect the Products – achieved by frequent narrative shortcuts and burying of any semblance of ingenuity, such as the more feminist approach to Peach. All that’s missing are the price tags underneath each reference. It would be horrific if it weren’t depressingly evident that portions of fandom – namely those with overly rose-tinted views on their childhood – will happily eat this up; god forbid they are given anything new or challenging.

(from left) Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), Mario (Chris Pratt), Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) in Nintendo and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic.

Treated with equal disregard are the characters. Forgetting what we know about the expanded Mario universe, what is it about Mario as a character that distinguishes him as a leader? What makes him significant in this film specifically? It’s not his bravery because Mario starts and ends the movie by standing up to bullies. Plus, it’s a quality shared with Peach and eventually Luigi, whose molecularly thin arc is based on bravery. It’s not his selflessness because Peach has more of this than he does. No agency is given to Mario here outside of what the IP dictates. It doesn’t help that the voice acting – with the exception of Taylor Joy and maybe Black – is collectively irritating. Poor comedic delivery, hyperbolic screeching and bad accents are so abundant that it makes one want to take a fire flower to the screen.

It would be more tolerable if there were at least a distinguishable spectacle. While the animation is aesthetically colourful, it is as cluttered as the fan service. Super Mario’s popularity is usually attributed to its joy of movement, yet the movie moves at such speed it’s like it prematurely digested a super star. It’s filled with so much noise, explosive colour and dizzying visuals that the film seems afraid of losing the audience’s attention. It’s a sensory overload that only enhances the film’s head-ache-inducing abilities.

Video game movies sadly have a history of being poor. The Super Mario Bros Movie is an especially regressive example. It’s condescending and lazy, content on pandering to the lowest common denominator of fandom – the people who want to dine on member berries forever. But the nostalgia goggles have to come off eventually, and everyone else will find themselves swiftly alienated. If children don’t find it lame, they’ll forget it in nanoseconds as they’re reminded of the far better video games. All movies exist to sell, but this exists to sell everything but the movie. It’s not a love letter – it’s soulless capitalism.

The Super Mario Bros Movie is an imagination-free wasteland where cinematic storytelling goes to die. If I had a power-up mushroom that could wipe my mind clean of this vapid hedonistic excuse for enjoyment, I’d wolf it down. 

Sonic the Hedgehog 2


  • The Super Mario Bros Movie

United States | 1hr 32min | 2023

The Super Mario Bros Movie is an imagination-free wasteland where cinematic storytelling goes to die. If I had a power-up mushroom that could wipe my mind clean of this vapid hedonistic excuse for enjoyment, I’d wolf it down.

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