Monday Morning Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Those of us who were children in the early 1990s will remember Super Mario Bros. (1993).  It was the first time a video game had been adapted for film—ever, and, sure, WarGames (1983) was about playing a computer game, but Super Mario Bros. was the first time an actual video game IP had been made for the big screen—-and we were all super (no pun intended) excited to see our favorite 8-bit (well, 16-bit, by that point) heroes, Mario and Luigi, on film (note—there was a WarGames video game, but it was released in 1984 and was based on the film, not the other way around).  I was eight when the movie was released, so I was old enough to be aware of the hype surrounding the film.  The schoolyard was abuzz with anticipation.

Unfortunately, you probably know how the rest of the story goes:  it was an abysmal failure.  The film bore little resemblance to the 2D platformer we all loved, and while Dennis Hopper certainly makes for an intimidating antagonist, he bore little resemblance to Bowser (he was “King Koopa” in the film).  I remember watching the movie as a kid (we rented it) and being baffled by what was happening.  Why was everything so dark and dystopian?  It was a far too impressionistic endeavor to work as an adaptation of a beloved video game that captured the imagination of children.

The film was such a disaster, critically and financially, that Nintendo shied away from any more forays into cinema for thirty years.  Other than some cartoons on television, Nintendo did not go near Hollywood for three solid decades.

Now, when movie-going is struggling to revive itself after The Age of The Virus, Nintendo has reentered the ring with The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023), a film that may very well save Hollywood from its penchant for wokery and poor box office receipts.  More importantly, it’s the Mario Bros. movie we should have gotten thirty years ago.

Better late than never, eh, Nintendo?

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is very true to the spirit of the games, with plenty of nods to veteran players.  Heck, there were even some characters I recognized—like the cute but cheerfully nihilistic star creature—but whose names I don’t know because they’re from the more recent games.  There were no attempts to rewrite the characters to fit with the sensibilities of “modern audiences” or the like (Nintendo wisely steers clear of most of that foolishness)—they were largely presented as they are in the games.

In other words, Mario is courageous and well-rounded; Princess Peach is brave and willing to fight alongside the boys; Toad is plucky and capable; and Luigi is a scaredy-cat whose loyalty inspires him to great acts of heroism.  Bowser is evil, and his portrayal here (with incredible voicework from none other than Jack Black) is actually scary—he makes for a very menacing villain.  The film has fun with his soft side—he plays grand piano and croons over his extremely unrequited love for Princess Peach—but he’s clearly a Bad Guy up to No Good.

It’s a kid’s movie, unabashedly.  My niece and nephews loved it (I did not see it with them, unfortunately); the older of my two nephews, who is six, told me “it was amazing!”  There is plenty of slapstick, such as when Mario attempts to complete an obstacle course that resembles a difficult level from the games, and lots of over-the-top goofiness, but this flick is one that adults can enjoy, too.

Weirdly, knowing that Jack Black is the voice of Bowser makes the character even better.  Sometimes recognizing actors takes one out of the story; instead of watching a movie about some fictional or actual figure, we’re watching Tom Cruise or the like.  We can’t separate the star from the role.  Here, Jack Black seemed like the logical choice for the main baddie.  Watching Bowser croon “Peaches” left me in stitches, because they captured a Jack Black performance in the form of an animated dinosaur.

There is a tiny modicum of grrrrrrrpwr here with Princess Peach, but she is a very capable fighter in the game.  She’s not effortlessly good at everything (except the obstacle course), and she can’t go toe-to-toe with Bowser without consequences.  She has to be smart in how she approaches fights, and she depends upon friends.  When she needs the help of the Kong Army and Cranky Kong says her champion must best his son Donkey Kong in battle, she doesn’t throw herself into the fray; Mario goes.  Princess Peach is a pretty portrayal of what modern femininity should be:  graceful, poised, courageous, loyal, and pragmatic.

Mario has a huge growth arc in the story.  He starts out plucky and determined, but way down on his luck.  His brother Luigi adores him to a fault, and Mario feels the heavy responsibility of that admiration.  At the same time, Mario’s tenacity inspire Luigi to overcome his fears.

As much as Princess Peach has stolen some of the media limelight for the movie, Mario is unequivocally the protagonist.  It’s his journey we’re on, which is befitting a movie called The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

All in all, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is delightful fun, and something kids and adults can enjoy.  I don’t recall anything particularly raunchy, which either means it wasn’t there, or I’ve become so desensitized to sleaze that I don’t recognize it anymore (probably not true, but sometimes I have to wonder).

Check it out!


4 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

  1. Thanks for the review, mate. I wasn’t going to bother with it, what with it being a well known brand remade for the modern era, but if it turns up on catchup, I’ll give it a watch. 👍

    Liked by 2 people

    • My pleasure. It’s not a “must-see” on the big screen, although is does look gorgeous. It’s definitely worth picking up as a rental on a streaming service. Nothing groundbreaking, just good, wholesome entertainment.

      Liked by 2 people

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