The wait is finally over – Nintendo’s big new The Super Mario Bros. Movie via Illumination Entertainment is here, it’s quite possibly the biggest video game movie produced to date. With several attempts to make Super Mario themed cartoons, a live-action TV show, and the infamous 90s live-action film, it’s time for Mario and Luigi to finally shine in theaters.
The new Super Mario Bros. Movie has been carefully built under Nintendo and original creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who co-produced the film alongside Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri. The film also arrives not long after Super Nintendo World opened in the USA. There’s a lot riding on Mario’s new adventure. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an excellent start for Mario’s film franchise – read on to find out why!
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Production Company: Illumination Entertainment, Nintendo
Publisher: Universal Pictures
Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Release Date: April 5th, 2023
First things first – to properly set expectations for any fans considering seeing The Super Mario Bros. Movie, this movie essentially sets the stage for a potentially massive cinematic universe (I hate using that term). There’s a lot of world building here and a chunk of the beginning actually establishes both Mario and Luigi as real plumbers in Brooklyn.
If you’re a fan of the classic Super Mario Bros. Super Show, you’ll be familiar with their explanation of where the Mario Bros. came from: while doing a job they get sucked down a warp pipe and end up in the Mushroom Kingdom. That’s not far from what happens here, though it’s teased as something a bit more and will likely be explored in later films.
The main plot in the Super Mario Bros. Movie is like a mashup – but with a reoccurring theme of Bowser’s infatuation with Princess Peach. The majority of the movie is all about stopping Bowser and his quest to conquer all the land. The second part of Bowser’s quest, though, is his love for Princess Peach.
The movie pokes at this a bit and Jack Black’s performance as Bowser is actually hilarious, he sings too (it definitely sounds like him while singing). The rest of the cast generally do their parts well but Donkey Kong is basically just Seth Rogan as himself, while Keegan-Michael Key as Toad is harder to tell.
There was a lot of controversy with Chris Pratt being cast as Mario and not series mainstay Charles Martinet. While there’s a really cute passing of the torch from Martinet to Pratt, both Mario and Luigi speak in a normal accent. There is a hint of the caricature-like accents from Mario and Luigi’s past, but this is explained away quickly in a clever bit.
If you’re looking for a really clever take on the Mario formula, you’re not going to find it here. This is a classic Mario story, through and through. Conversely, in the new Sonic the Hedgehog live action movies they took a more serious and realistic approach to explaining the characters, the other worlds, the lore, and the special powers. In the Mario Movie, things just are because they are that way.
Visuals are spectacular as expected from the unity of Illumination and Nintendo. Character expressions and animations are vibrant, and the landscapes from Brooklyn to the Mushroom Kingdom all look great. The movie jumps between different locales, all with their own feel and like any Mario game, they all have gameplay purpose. The hint at Luigi’s Mansion was excellent but sadly short.
Some previous attempts at video game movie adaptations generally framed the “gameplay” in the movie as simply how the character(s) interact with each other and the world. The Super Mario Bros. Movie actually frames things around gameplay itself, right down to how the iconic Mario powerups have worked for decades. One blue mushroom Mario gets will squeeze a pre-emptive laugh out.
The film starts with gameplay immediately as Mario and Luigi traverse a construction site from a 2D perspective just like you’d see in a real Super Mario game. There’s so many calls to gameplay mechanics that fans of the series know and love it’s overwhelming. There’s also, naturally, a bunch of power-ups that Mario and others cycle through (like mushrooms)
This simple concept of framing gameplay mechanics directly into a game movie adaptation seems to have ruffled the feathers of corporate media. Generally I think this stems from the fact most of them don’t actually play video games. They’d rather watch things happen on screen, so a reminder that you still have to “play” video games triggered them.
Fans of Super Mario and Nintendo’s other games will be in for a treat with easter eggs, the movie is littered with them. From the beginnings with the Punch Out-themed restaurant to Mario actually playing the original Kid Icarus in his bedroom, there’s tons of nostalgic references. At times it can feel like there’s maybe too many hidden nuggets, but it’s never enough to make non-gamers feel left out.
There’s naturally tons of nods to the various series from the DK Rap to the entire Mario Kart segment. The music changes appropriately too – Bowser “jams out” with the iconic underground theme on piano and when Mario is underwater you hear a slight hint of the underwater theme. My favorite was probably the nod at the Rainbow Road shortcut from Mario Kart 64.
Licensed songs are here, too, and while they work I could see how they could annoy people when the original score really is fantastic. I genuinely chuckled when AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” rolled in when the characters were building their vehicles to go riding on Rainbow Road. A-ha’s ever classic one-hit-wonder “Take On Me” was pushing it, though I do love that song.
Without spoiling too much, Luigi doesn’t get much screentime and this is likely due to the story focusing on Mario and Peach. Early marketing suggested Peach was going to be a proud and strong female that don’t need no man, but the actual movie is far from that. The film simply focuses more on the everlasting lust Bowser, a giant turtle monster, has for Peach, a human. Mario and Luigi get stuck in the middle.
With such a massive legacy, there’s so many different expectations of how the movie could go. I think some will be upset the movie really sticks to its video game roots and overtly throws in classic Mario game mechanics. As noted I personally loved this. The movie doesn’t try to be anything more than a big screen adaptation of the Mario series, and that’s fine.
I think my main gripe is that I wanted more action and character building from the movie. There’s so much to cover so the story moves fast, before you know it the stage is set for the big final battle. You never learn the true motivations behind Donkey Kong, and sadly one of Mario’s best companions only gets a tiny bit of screentime – but more on that later.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie basically feels like the foundation for what is likely going to be a big movie franchise for Nintendo. There’s a ton of set up, world building, characters introduced, and gameplay mechanics added throughout, but it feels like this is just the beginning. Still I think this is fine, and yet I just wanted a bit more from the film.
Ultimately fans will really enjoy the Super Mario Bros. Movie and everything it does. It doesn’t reinvent the series formula and really stays close to the source material, with tons of love for everything Super Mario. I may have really felt like I wanted a bit more but it’s obvious they’re going to make more and the final post-credits scene has me ecstatic Mario’s pal is back.
Overall the Super Mario Bros. Movie is a faithful take on one of the most iconic franchises and characters in video game history. I went in with my own hopes and came out impressed the movie gave me some good laughs and had me genuinely satisfied as a lifelong Mario fan.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie was reviewed by Niche Gamer in theaters. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.