When it was first announced that an Illumination-produced Mario Bros. movie starring Chris Pratt as the titular protagonist was underway, audiences did not have high hopes. Given Illumination’s track record for annoying and cheap kids’ movies that were mediocre at best and Pratt’s track record for being the worst Chris, it wasn’t looking good at first glance.
Coming as a surprise to many, this movie isn’t complete hot garbage. Its plot is incredibly generic and thin, its dialogue is written for the sole purpose of trailer one-liners and its character motivation is almost entirely nonexistent, but there are still things to like about this movie.
Before we get to that, though, let’s address the elephant in the room: Pratt’s voice acting. Unsurprisingly, Pratt is hideously miscast as a down-on-his-luck Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn. Pratt often changes his accent entirely from New Yorker to his usual Pratt-y self, to a straight-up Mario impression. Luckily, it feels as though Pratt barely has any lines, despite being the protagonist, so it isn’t entirely distracting throughout the movie.
As far as voice acting goes, this seems to be the case for many. Most scenes including dialogue give only 2-3 lines per character, making the plot feel incredibly rushed in an already short movie, clocking in at under 90 minutes if you don’t include the credits. Because of this, there’s zero time for character development, and this film could’ve greatly benefited from anything other than static character beats. I never say this about movies, but 10-20 more minutes would’ve given the plot and characters more time to be fleshed out, which this movie was in desperate need of.
The movie begins, bewilderingly, in the real world. For some reason, Mario and Luigi (Charlie Day) hail from Brooklyn, and they recently left a different plumbing company in pursuit of starting their own. After a failed first day, the Mario Bros. attempt to make a name for themselves by fixing a flooding disaster in the city but find themselves in a pipe maze underground and eventually getting sucked into the video game world we know and love.
Mario and Luigi are then separated, leading Mario to team up with Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) to save Luigi from Bowser’s (Jack Black) lava prison. Meanwhile, Bowser plans on taking over Peach’s Mushroom Kingdom, all while harboring an unrequited crush on her.
Mario and Luigi’s backstory of being normal plumbers from Brooklyn with little moral support from their family is fruitless and unneeded. It’s an incredibly strange choice to show the real world, let alone have the brothers be from it, as it completely takes you out of the film and destroys your suspension of disbelief if you’re not under the age of 10.
The brothers’ plumbing motivations have absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the story, and it never comes back at any point in the story. Mario and Luigi have no intention of becoming heroes, they only want to be respected as plumbers, and Mario has no problem sticking up for himself. By the end of the movie, they’re still plumbers, they just relocated to the Mushroom Kingdom.
The only real character in this movie is Peach. She has a backstory and motivations for her own story but helps Mario despite having no reason to. Other than that, Peach is actually a pretty cool character. Arriving in the Mushroom Kingdom as an orphan baby, she learns the rules of the world and is crowned princess after being raised by Toads. Her mission is to protect the kingdom from Bowser, and Taylor-Joy brings her to life convincingly.
Along with Taylor-Joy, the only other actor in the film that appears to be enjoying themself is Jack Black as Bowser. Black’s voice is completely unrecognizable, morphing into a comically evil villain that was very fun to watch. A missed comedic moment could’ve been Bowser realizing that taking over the world and holding the Toads and other supporting characters hostage is not the key to Peach’s heart and learning the error of his ways, but instead, he is simply defeated by being shrunk and locked in a jar at the end of the film.
Bowser is one of the few comedic elements that work in this film. Another joke of note is an imprisoned introspective star that longs for death. Those were quite possibly the only running gags that were consistently funny, but many of them were targeted toward children and children only.
Overall, this film probably could’ve been much better if not held back by the Illumination formula. There would likely be less distracting use of licensed pop songs, a story that isn’t a copy-pasted hero’s journey with a beloved video game franchise name slapped on, and a story with fleshed-out and developed characters.
That being said, there’s still some love to be found in this movie. The action sequences are engaging and well-done, and the film seems to be written around anything that would make a Mario fan happy. This is actually a movie that might benefit from a sequel, now that the bland origin story is out of the way. A post-credit scene teased a Yoshi cameo, a character not found in this movie, and Peach notes that she knows nothing about her past or her family, so a Daisy introduction might spice things up. There’s a lot to explore in the Super Mario world. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, despite the lackluster movie we’re dealing with.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is mainly concerned with entertaining kids, and it succeeds in that. It’s possible to make kids’ movies that are equally enjoyable to adults, and big studios outside of the Disney umbrella tend to forget that (there are really only a handful of exemptions to this rule). Despite this, an engaging story and world can be found in its unengaging script. Should a sequel to this movie be made, it has the potential to be something very special, which this movie is not. But the potential is there, and that’s something.