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The Super Mario Bros. Movie


The main point to note about The Super Mario. Bros Movie is what it isn’t. It isn’t, despite its super-capable princess who absolutely doesn’t need a man to define her, a woke movie. That may not explain the level of its success, but it surely didn’t hinder it either. See also last year’s Top Gun: Maverick. What The Super Mario. Bros Movie also isn’t, however, is especially good. Or maybe it is, if you’re a devotee of the games (I’ve only ever dabbled). Perhaps the key is that, like Maverick, it avoids disrespecting the source material. Which, in the current environment, tends to be greeted by the public as a miracle to be praised to the heavens.

Of course, Illumination has paid lip service at best – or worst – to woke principles, which means the same has been true of DreamWorks since it took on its oversight (The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish were two of last year’s better movies). They also didn’t need to put a lot of effort in to achieve something superior to 1993’s live-action disaster Super Mario Bros. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, and writer Matthew Fogel (The Rise of Gru), know well enough to invoke the pleasures of the games as much as possible, so you have power-ups, mushrooms, platforms and Mario karting. And naturally, a host of signature characters that actually look like their game counterparts, always a good idea to keep prospective audiences on side (take note Sony and your forthcoming Garfield).

One problem I encountered, off the bat, is that I’m just not mad-keen on the title characters. Or character, since this is mostly The Super Mario (Chris Pratt) Show (Charlie Day’s Luigi is locked up most of the time, although most of the best laughs come in those scenes). The makers might be argued to have doubled down on their essential indistinctiveness though shying away from caricature Italian accents – aside from their plumbing ads, that is – and the occasional line of dialogue such as “Mamma mia! 

Obviously, Pratt’s inauthentic Italian-ness was criticised, so this may be the movie’s example of an area where attempting to pre-empt brickbats from both ends of the spectrum left no one especially contented. However, it also seems Pratt was going for something more full-blooded, as his initial Tony Soprano-esque vocals were ditched, while Day’s were deemed too close to Goodfellas. The presumptive lack of balls in these decisions rather extend into the lukewarm sensibility of the movie as a whole. How long will it be before Scorsese pipes up about the desecration of his heritage? Aside from (in) fidelity to all things Italian, I was mostly puzzled by the resemblance of one of Mario’s family to the Chuckle Brothers.  

I also found the action only intermittently engaging. The sequence in which Mario must beat Donkey Kong (a suitably boorish and oafish Seth Rogen) hits the necessary marks, less so the rainbow bridge kart chase (despite their prominent presence, rainbows are only representative of rainbows in The Super Mario Bros. Movie). Jack Black voices Bowser, King of the Koopas. Which means, obviously, that he sings at one point. Or several points.

As aficionados will confirm, the villains of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the franchise, are reptiles (turtles, to be specific). Their leader Bowser, an overgrown and especially belligerent specimen, rules over darkness, plans a royal wedding – to a human, so infiltrating bloodlines – where prisoners “will all be ritually sacrificed”, can be located by going underground (well, via a warp pipe, or portal), and has designs on control of the Earth. So if there’s absolutely no Draco substitution going on here, it doesn’t take a lot to make them fit (he also, like Elton John, plays piano, although it seems Elton was chipped rather than Vril’d).

Par for the course with both DreamWorks and Illumination, there’s a reliance on familiar pop hits for impetus. These include No Sleep Till Brooklyn (see also this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, also featuring Chris Pratt), Holding Out for a Hero (see also this year’s Tetris), Mr. Blue Sky (see also every movie since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a-ha’s Take on Me and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. And some Carmen. Because, you know, Italian.

By far the best part of The Super Mario. Bros Movie is Lumalee, an imprisoned blue Luma offering “cute” portends of doom to anyone who will reluctantly listen: “Time, like hope, is an illusion”; “There’s no escape. The only hope is the sweet relief of death”; “In an insane world, the sane are called insane”; “Life in prison is very, very sad”. Perhaps they should give her a spinoff. Will The Super Mario. Bros Movie finish the year ruling the box-office roost? I don’t know what else is likely to cross a billion. It would be a first for Mission: Impossible. The Flash likely landed too late. MCU is done. As Mario would say “Let’s-a-go!

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