REVIEW: Let’s-a-go! ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is a fun spin on a popular franchise

Abigail Celoria, Culture Editor

The meme waterfall that followed Chris Pratt’s casting announcement turned the newest franchise-based film, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” into something of a must-see. Due to the popularity of the Mario games—because who hasn’t played Mario Kart at least once in their life—the film garnered some speculation. Would it pay proper homage or soullessly promote the video games it hails from?

Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are brothers struggling to keep their new business afloat. When attempting to solve a local plumbing problem, the two stumble upon a pipe that whisks them away to another world. However, the two are separated, leading Mario to the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi to Bowser’s (Jack Black) cursed domain. With Luigi in peril, Mario teams up with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the Kong army to save his brother and this strange new universe.

Contrary to warranted fears, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does not exist just as promotional material, which is rare for a film of its type. It is more akin to “The Lego Movie” (2014) than “The Emoji Movie” (2017)—a product of a franchise, true, but not an embarrassing advertisement. It achieves this by prioritizing both the story and the action.

That doesn’t mean the film separates itself from the material. Several story “twists” would have been a disservice to both long-time fans of the video games and an audience that is familiar with them. Instead, it only bends some elements, resulting in a familiar but fresh tale.

The titular Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” (Universal Pictures)

Early on in the film, the audience learns that Mario and Luigi are from Brooklyn, New York. Their accents from the game become a shtick in the film, used to promote their plumbing business. Instead of the vibrant, pop-culture characters, the audience meets two brothers down on their luck. This does make their outfits a bit sillier, but with so much weight behind the source material, it’s easy enough to accept. The humanization of such well-known characters makes them more suitable for a movie format.

It’s these small shake-ups that make “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” so endearing. While Bowser’s continual kidnapping of Princess Peach is a trope for the franchise, the film spins it in a hilarious way. Bowser’s reason for stealing the Super Star is to either impress or threaten Peach, depending on her answer to his proposal. Jack Black—who is the best choice for this character—performs love ballads and practices pickup lines that will crack any audience up. Adding a comedic edge to a notoriously menacing villain fits Bowser perfectly into the tone of the film.

For all the little girls in the audience, Peach is adapted from a damsel-in-distress to a certified girlboss. She is the one that teaches Mario to fight and leads him on her quest to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser. The two build respect for one another before any hint of romance, which is a refreshing subversion from many other family films.

Mario (Chris Pratt), Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal Pictures)

However, among the many lively characters in the film, two in the main cast—Luigi and Toad—were the most underutilized in their respective roles. While Luigi does serve as the catalyst for Mario’s adventure, making him the “rescuee” steals some potential from his storyline. This makes his role at the end of the film less impactful and a tad undeserved. And Toad, who is the one to introduce Mario to Peach, quickly becomes the “funny” member of the team.

This is where the balance between story and action fails, as more of the film’s run time could have been devoted to the key cast members.

To the action’s credit, though, it is show-stopping. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” pulled out all the stops when it comes to visuals. Each realm of the world is colorful, distinct and visually fascinating. This translates to the different methods of travel and fighting that the characters employ.

The iconic video game character Mario (Chris Pratt) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” (Universal Pictures)

Sequences that show characters progressing together often look straight on the action, reminiscent of the straight-on view of the Mario obstacle games. Other moments, like the car chase along Rainbow Road, employ much more dynamic movement—including one that traces the blue shell’s path, mimicking the “replay” clips following a Mario Kart race.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a film whose heartbeat is in its medium. Because of the versatility and artistic focus of animation, scenes like the one where Princess Peach is transformed by the fire flower would not be near as dazzling in any other style.

Despite all the good, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does face one overwhelming problem. For audience members that are unfamiliar with the game mechanics, the film may be a bit of a blur, as so much of it relies on familiarity with the power-ups. Without that, certain elements—like the cat suit Mario acquires when fighting Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan)—become strange. The “why” behind this power system is just not present without outside context. However, with so much popularity among the franchise, it is unlikely that the film could lose a viewer completely.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is no movie of the year, but it also doesn’t pretend to be. It’s an enjoyable family film that honors the games it hails from. Parents can take their kids to the theater and actually get a laugh out of it. And for college students, it’s not a bad choice for a stress break, either.