The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

“Do you think I know every human being with a mustache, wearing an identical outfit with a hat, with a letter of his first name on it? Because I don’t.”

I must be experiencing déjà vu. In my Tetris review, I mentioned the worn-out addition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero” during moments of heroism and what do you know, it’s like Illumination Studios and Universal anticipated my disappointment by adding “Holding Out For a Hero” during a training montage in the next up video game adaptation The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Are there no other songs that depict heroism? There has to be as the Bonnie Tyler epic has lost its luster and effectiveness to get the adrenaline pumped for a fast paced  and chopped up montage of our hero Mario training for his adventure in the various familiar worlds the games have visited throughout the years.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie can best be described in 1 word, a disappointment. From start to finish, what Mario Bros lacks in character, plot and development is made up with Easter eggs galore, a shiny gleam to its animation and a face melting score by composers Brian Tyler and Koji Kondo. Every frame of this ode to two plump Italian plumbers is full of eye grabbing details that if you blink, you miss out on the experiential nostalgia porn the person next to you caught and got sucked into. Like you’re missing out on an inside joke that a theater full of people are in on and you’re on the outside trying to fit in with a forced sense of shared perspective.

Anyone who has owned a gaming console of any kind and brand has come across The Mario Bros Mario Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi Mario (Charlie Day) and yes I can confirm that Mario is both the first and last name of our mustached Italian protagonist in overalls and a red shirt and matching cap.

No, Mario isn’t like Seal or Cher or Prince. Do the research and look it up, it’s unsettling if you think about it.

Several classic games have been molded from decades of clay into one blob to create the movie written by Matthew Fogel and directed by duo Aaron Horvath (who’s only other credit is Teen Titans Go to the Movies) and Michael Jelenic, first time director. Easily spotted are Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., and Super Mario with a hint at Mario Party (my favorite growing up) and others added with a wink and a smile. And while adapting the games for the big screen is cool to see on a grander scale, Fogel doesn’t add any narrative heft to these moments that we can all get from just revisiting the games. All it winds up being is an empty calorie meal emphasizing style over substance. Unlike what The Last of Us  accomplishes or even Sonic the Hedgehog on some level with it’s over abundant charm.

Because of this, video games have proven to be challenging to adapt with more falling on the divisive side of the spectrum than celebrated in a different medium. As the Paper Mario thinned plot gets underway, The Super Mario Bros. Movie ends up being the former – with all its vibrancy in the worlds and the accuracy to the beloved games, and the classic tunes booming through the speakers that unlocks childhood memories once forgotten, Horvath and Jelenic’s film falls apart at the seams, they lose control of the kart before 3,2,1, go can be mouthed by the collective audience.

The bare bones outline of what should be a plot is this – Mario and Luigi get sucked through a warp pipe from their home in Brooklyn into two separate worlds. Mario ending up in the Mushroom kingdom, Luigi ending up in the Dark Lands. Assisting Mario on his journey to find Luigi is Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom. Together, the trio set off to the Jungle Kingdom to seek an alliance with Cranky Kong (Fred Arimsen) and his son Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) against the forces of the evil Bowser (Jack Black).

With this caliber of a-list stars providing the voices to these classic characters, it’s Jack Black’s Bowser that stands out the most with others around him playing catch up. There is something oddly unnerving about hearing Seth Rogan’s signature laugh now be associated with Donkey Kong. No matter how much I try and forget, the image and sound will be seared into my brain forever. The two don’t mix well like oil and vinegar. Remember when the news broke about Chris Pratt voicing Mario, and the collective world scratching their heads if he could pull of the voice we all have come to know and love? This is the same fandom that petitioned a reanimating of Sonic after that first trailer dropped. The good news is Pratt commits to the pressure, fitting right in and gives 110 percent to honoring the legacy of the character. Maybe the bigger outcry should have been Rogan’s Donkey Kong.

Overall, The Super Mario Bros. Movie will come, leave a polished and picturesque mark on the genre and go, being forgotten immediately. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot going for it, despite its hollow emptiness, over-indulgence, self-absorption and reliance on nostalgia porn (Space Jam: A New Legacy look and feel). What works is far outweighed by the missteps along the way, however, don’t underestimate its value as a brand of the Nintendo corporation to entertain viewers young and old.

Maybe we’ll have to wait another 30 years for a better Super Mario Bros. Movie to change the way video game movies are made. Some nostalgia to pull at the heart strings of the die-hard but a story that has weight to it and characters that are given new dimension to them beyond what has already been established by creator Shigeru Miyamoto.

Screenplay By: Matthew Fogel

Directed By: Aaron Horvath & Michael Jelenic

Music By: Bryan Tyler & Koji Kondo

Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogan, Fred Armisen

Edited By: Eric Osmond

Release Date: April 5, 2023

Running Time: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%

Based On: Mario by Shigeru Miyamoto

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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