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The Super Mario Bros. Movie is Finally Here

After a long and question-prone wait, the eagerly-anticipated collaboration between Nintendo and Illumination Studios has finally brought us The Super Mario Bros. Movie. With poor critic reviews being quickly contrasted by stellar audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes after it's debut this past Wednesday, the actual quality of the film is something of a mystery. Is it a cheesy Minions-adjacent kiddy film with poopoo potty fart humor or is it an endearing homage to arguably gaming's most iconic franchise that's fun for the whole family?

Many were dubious about Nintendo putting their trust in Illumination with this monumental task. Countless hypotheticals of the possible Illumination Mario movie riddled with toilet humor and poorly written jokes that would make anyone over the age of nine roll their eyes crossed the internet. Speculation only went crazier with the notorious reveal of the cast of Hollywood hot shots that would be voicing the classic Mario line-up. Chris Pratt taking the titular role of Mario in particular made many nervous and his less-than-promising showcases of the Mario voice in the trailers were more than enough to inspire wide-spread wariness for this film.

Now that the movie's finally hit theaters, did Illumination make a botch-job of the Mario characters we know and love or did Nintendo have an iron grip on the reigns and put their foot down with all the schlocky nonsense Illumination has a reputation for? I'm happy to say that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a very fun watch and Illumination studios has really knocked it out of the park with the visuals and animation. This movie is beautiful to look at; the visuals are insanely polished and clean and it's exceedingly colorful. The various action scenes have a lot of energy to them and are choreographed in fun and exciting ways. They may have a knack for cringey humor but they sure do know how to make a good-looking movie.

Incredible looks aside, the writing does have some inescapable Illumination DNA with some wildly out of place licensed music and the occasional bit of low-brow cringey quip humor but it's few and far between enough to keep from really detrimenting the whole of the movie in any major way. When it's not licensed, the music of this movie is definitely a treat as it's arguably the most committed to incorporating all the different Koji Kondo tunes from Mario's history into the lifeblood of this movie and it never stops being exciting waiting to hear what soundbyte will pop up next.

The actual plot of the movie is short and simple. Mario and his brother Luigi are Brooklyn plumbers who get warp-piped into a strange new world and separated. Mario meets Princess Peach and Toad and join up to go on a quest to save his brother from the evil King Koopa, Bowser, and stop him from dominating the Mushroom Kingdom.

This is a very short movie at only 92 minutes. There's little to no downtime with the pacing of the plot and it moves from one thing to another at breakneck speeds. Many people have griped about the way the movie tears through it's events but I don't think it's necessarily a terrible thing. It's a short movie and if any movie was going to be short and to the point I'd kind of rather it be Mario. Besides, we don't really need to sit down and learn more about Mario or Princess Peach's character, we know who they are and what their motivations are. The few times we do get to see a bit of the backstory for Mario or Peach it's almost a bit jarring, like how Mario has the running theme of his father thinking he's a disappointment which is very, very briefly introduced at the beginning of the movie during a scene where Mario and Luigi sit down and have spaghetti dinner with their extended family of Illumination humanized Mario character regular people. And yes, that scene is as bizarre and jarring as it sounds.

It would be nice to have a little bit more room to breath as this movie is super fast (I know that's the umpteenth time I'm bringing it up but it really does blur by.) Getting a little more time to see how the mechanics of the Mario world work would be nice or giving more time to some of the fun background characters from the games that make cameo appearances here and there. Sure, everyone and their mom has played a Mario game so it doesn't take a PhD to understand how the basic rules of Mario go but it still just felt like poor movie making and potentially alienating when some power-ups don't even appear until the end of the movie. Maybe even some more time devoted to Jack Black's Bowser, who is in fact definitely having the most fun and probably the most fun to watch out of the characters, would have been appreciated.

After Mario gets isekai'd into the Mushroom Kingdom and has a short tour through a bustling plaza full of toads, the movie seems to get too caught up in pitching the plot at you full-speed to keep pushing so many easter eggs into every corner of the screen. Not that I want every frame of the movie to have three different references to niche 90's NES titles but it admittedly feels like a bit of the creativity drops off at some point. The movie is so indulgent about this game franchise and you can clearly tell the people who worked on it really love Mario but with so much material to draw from and so many different games and characters at their disposal I couldn't help feeling just a little bit let down.

At the end of the day, we really only see the penguin kingdom, the toads, the koopas, and the kongs. Again, it is a very short movie so cramming even more in there would probably crowd things but we get a lot of shots of various background creatures in cages in Bowser's dungeon and other such background-heavy scenes where it would have been cool to see maybe a Pianta or a Wiggler or something. Of course that's mostly just nit-picking as the movie as is definitely offers a lot in the little blink-and-you'll-miss-it easter egg type details department. I just feel like with how short the movie is and how fast it moves a lot of the creative potential of the grander Mario universe is left in the dust.

My most major gripe however is that the movie gives away pretty much every single one of it's locations and plot points through it's numerous trailers. Save for one significant endgame set-piece, by looking through each trailer Illumination showed off you can almost totally puzzle-piece together the plot of the movie because of how quickly it slips from one location to the next. I remember in the weeks leading up to it's debut, they announced a big "final trailer" presentation to give everyone one last peak before the movie officially came out... and then they proceeded to still drop new clips even after that "final" trailer. It really hurt the movie experience for me a bit as it didn't really keep much up it's sleeve to save for the silver screen.

At the end of the day, this is a very fun movie if not simple-- and simple doesn't mean bad. The voice actors all did a decent job, the animation is gorgeous, the music is a delight, and there's a lot of stuff for hardcore fans to gawk and point at the screen over. It suffers from a short run-time, superspeed plot, and maybe a bit lacking in creativity and time to flesh out some of the mechanics. It was pretty much exactly what I expected going in. It's a very definitively "pretty good" movie. I think the most damning thing I can say about this movie is that it's unfortunately a fairly forgettable flick. It's fun while it lasts, it's pretty to look at, and it's an easter egg cornucopia but it didn't really leave a lasting impact for me. If you're a diehard Mario fan then I'd recommend it but for those who are more on the fence I'd say you can probably hold off until it hits streaming as you aren't missing a whole lot you can't see in the movie's many trailers.

Final Verdict: 7/10

The most "pretty good" movie of all time. It's nothing if not fun and pretty but definitely lacking in some areas.

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