A Review by Victor DeBonis
There are certainly parts of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” that I enjoy. The animation is very bright and colorful, and the backgrounds of the world are covered with detail and feel alive. Characters move with impressive speed, and the camera does great in keeping up with the people on screen. In certain instances, I recalled films from DreamWorks Animation, such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and their ability to simulate fast motion and flight and allow others to feel as close to flying or running with their character as possible. Some scenes are obviously done to represent the looks of some Mario games, and the direction does a good job in this respect. Jack Black works wonderfully as Bowser, echoing the simultaneously intimidating and hilarious presence of the villain from the game. He easily earned many of the big laughs from me. Also, Anya-Taylor Joy is great at voicing this version of Princess Peach with her firmness and sense of wonder in her vocals, and Seth Rogen is amusing to listen to as Donkey Kong. Rogen’s humor matches perfectly for a gorilla who is not very bright and has a foolishly larger image of himself as grandiose. Chris Pratt works fine enough as the main hero. He could’ve used another take in some emotional scenes, but they wisely leave out the thick, Italian accent for him.
There is definitely not a movie that feels as though the creators didn’t care about the games, and this film does everything in its power to honor the visual presence and feel of them in many respects. With all of this being said, the movie stumbles pretty heavily in regards to the story.
You get a sense of how characters are in terms of personality, but the pacing of the movie goes so fast that we honestly don’t get as much time to learn about them or, at least, spend more time with them as one would like. It’s one incident leading to a very brief moment at home to another incident that sends our hero out to assist, and the movie rarely allows much time to breathe or allow a quieter, more serious moment to sink in. I appreciate this movie being fairly short at about 92 minutes, especially regarding many movies winding up to be 2 and a half hours nowadays, but the speed of the narrative itself is too rushed and unfortunately doesn’t allow the emotional moments that pop up briefly to truly sink in. This, to me, was a huge missed opportunity. Most of Illumination’s movies, in general, bother me for a similar reason: Nobody can deny the visual artistry and talent on the screen, but, when it comes to more serious, heartfelt moments, their films tend to skate over them rather quickly, almost as though they’re afraid of losing their audience’s interest with the chases and fast-moving humor on-screen.
Also, characters’ relationships with each other, aside from perhaps Mario and Luigi’s, are not as well presented as they could be. Bowser wanting to have a romantic bond with Peach, for instance, has a couple of admittedly funny moments, but I wasn’t laughing as hard as I could’ve been. Mario and Luigi’s brotherhood is nicely done, but Luigi sadly doesn’t do that much in this movie as a hero, which is odd considering the title of the movie. Maybe, my biggest issue with this topic is the relationship between Mario and Peach. We’re led to believe by others mentioning in the movie that these two are supposed to have a romantic connection, but the chemistry between them is pretty weak. The movie doesn’t allow much time in their conversations with each other to see how they might end us as a couple with similarities and so on.
The music is odd, too. Brian Tyler’s score is admittedly good, encouraging great performances from the choir and instrumentals that are good at setting the mood for joyful and triumphant moments. The trouble is that the movie places too many popular songs in scenes that match the tone fine but are jarring in the sense that they’re used in countless other movies and shows. The choices for most of the songs seem almost too obvious, and, in my eyes, it distracted the movie from having the more epic feeling that it was going for, even if it’s a movie aimed largely towards kids and gamers.
Overall, the movie is not awful by any means, and the movie didn’t cause me to cringe or roll my eyes nearly as much as Illumination’s other work did. However, this film follows a similar pattern to much of Illumination’s filmography: Nobody can deny the visual artistry and talent on the screen, but, when it comes to more serious, heartfelt moments, their films tend to skate over them rather quickly, almost as though they’re afraid of losing their audience’s interest with the chases and fast-moving humor on-screen. I definitely had fun moments when watching this film, and I will admit that this film was probably aimed at a younger crowd as well as gamers, and I haven’t owned a console in a long time, and this film probably wasn’t meant for me. However, I see plenty of Disney animated movies that were also made with kids in mind, and they would still take their time to illustrate a meaningful message or, at the very least, spend enough time with the characters in between the action and humor to find out more about what they’re going through and help the audience connect with them more.
I understand that the games didn’t have a storyline, and not every good movie needs to be particularly deep to leave an impact. My answer to the former is that movies have been made about properties lacking any storyline, if any at all, such as “The Lego Movie” from about a decade ago. Yet, the scripts for movies, such as this, took their time to allow heartfelt moments to settle more and create something meaningful for the kids and the adults in the audience. Given how many decades this video game franchise had been around for and for how many years Illumination has been making films, I feel that they could’ve done something similar here, too.
The movie doesn’t deserve nearly as much as flack as some people are giving it, and, despite me not falling in love with the movie as others are, I’m very happy for the success that this film is experiencing, and I’m very happy that video-game adaptations are starting to become more common and successful. (I want the second season of “The Last of Us” NOW, darn it! )
Mileage may vary with this film. Kids will probably enjoy it a bunch, but some adults may get into this movie, and some won’t. I had some fun moments, but, overall, I couldn’t get into it as much as I was hoping to. So, take that for what it’s worth.