In a world of mediocre and insultingly bad video game movies, one couldn’t help but be wary of The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Sure, the cast has some big stars – Jack Black (Bowser), Keegan-Michael Key (Toad) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Princess Peach) – but there’s no way that it’s good… right?
It isn’t. At least, critics don’t think it is, as the movie currently sports a not-so-super 58% Tomatometer score.
This would ordinarily be game over for the Mario brothers, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie has a 96% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.4/10 on IMdB – an achievement that would make any Brooklyn plumber say wa-hoo.
So what’s happening? Are critics sorely mistaken? Are audiences too blinded by the flashy colors and big franchise name to notice the movie’s mediocrity? Is Peach sending all of the Toads in the Mushroom Kingdom to inflate the movie’s true score?
Amazingly, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is great. It’s not high art, nor does it try to be, which is why I enjoyed it enough that I would gladly watch it again. Many despise the film for its lackluster plot and character development, but I find that these criticisms miss the point of the film.
First and foremost, The Super Mario Bros. Movie shines in the audio-visual department. The art style, much like the rest of Illumination Entertainment’s films, is cartoony, colorful and distinct. Although I thought that the beginning of the film, which takes place in Brooklyn, seemed like a hodgepodge of reused Despicable Me assets, the rest of the film has a unique art style that allowed me to immerse myself within the Mario universe. The music is filled with audio cues that refer to numerous Mario games, from Super Mario Bros. World to Luigi’s Mansion – all demonstrating a degree of passion from the studio when creating the film.
The voice acting, although underwhelming for those who want to see an energetic Mario and Luigi, hits the right spot – avoiding a stereotypical Italian accent that usually overemphasizes the penultimate syllable, while also still bringing out the larger-than-life personality of Mario and Luigi.
The real issue that many critics have with the film is the story. Numerous sources, such as The Guardian, news.com.au, and Film Inquiry lambast The Super Mario Bros. Movie for playing it “safe” or having plotlines that meet the “bare minimum.” Although I understand the origins of these criticisms, I think that the directors’ goal wasn’t to “play it safe,” but to create a film that still remains true to its roots. Mario isn’t about complex storylines or character development.
Despite the release of several Mario video games over the past few years, gamers have yet to know where the Mario brothers actually come from. While a lack of narrative would be a weakness for most modern games, Mario’s lack of background serves as a strength. The signature wanderlust and excitement of the Mario games would only be muddled by a comprehensive backstory. Likewise, a forced storyline that over-explains Mario and Luigi’s origins would defeat the entire purpose of the movie. I think the film handles it perfectly – keeping a very manageable level of embellishment to keep the story going, while still preserving the atmosphere and philosophy of a franchise that everyone knows and loves. We know who Mario and Luigi are, and we just want to see them in action.
While The Super Mario Bros. Movie won’t blow you away like a blue shell, the film is certainly worth watching. Even if you aren’t a Mario fan, the film is particularly enjoyable and endearing, with countless funny moments and commendable performances. The directors definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun, action-packed adventure that will satisfy Mario and non-Mario fans alike.