For those born in the mid to late 80’s, The Super Mario Bros Movie will reach deep inside the recesses of your mind and use long dormant memories as cerebral chew toys. The people behind Illumination’s latest film know that, while it’s a movie for the whole family, it’s one targeted squarely at the parents. And It’s good.
It’s really good.
Super Mario Bros follows everyone’s favourite brothers from Brooklyn, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) as they go out on their own and start their own plumbing business. While Luigi is more than a little apprehensive about the career move, it’s Mario who’s gungho about proving himself to his family. After a job gone awry, the plumbers find themselves sucked down a magical pipe, transporting them to a world where they end up in the middle of a war between the Mushroom Kingdom, lead by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the evil Bowser (Jack Black) with his endless army of familiar and stompable minions in tow.
The people behind 2023’s Super Mario Bros have a clear and deep love for the video game franchise. It’s a love that jumps off the screen with intense vibrancy, and it’s this love that makes the latest foray into video game adaptations such a joy to watch. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic along with writer Matthew Fogel treat the source material with holy reverence, piling the screen with endless easter eggs, nods and sight gags that even the most casual of players will have fun spotting familiar territory and characters. Great care has been taken to preserve the games’ colourful landscapes and outlandish creatures, and even greater care has been taken to preserve its audio scape. Composer Brian Tyler has taken Koji Kondo’s work on the games and has powered it up to cinematic levels, breathing new life into a deeply treasured soundtrack that it will no doubt make many a “Best of” list on Spotify later this year.
But Super Mario Bros’ success rests squarely on the shoulders of the brothers themselves. To make them the most endearing versions of themselves, Horvath, Jelenic and Fogel have smartly concluded that focusing the film on brotherly love is a winner. And win it does. Pratt’s Mario has the same gumption and heart as that other kid from Brooklyn, willing to risk life and limb for his family, and Luigi, no matter how scared, is there to back his bro in whatever situation they might find themselves in. Outside of the nods, references, and deeply familiar sound effects, it’s this brotherhood that elevates the film above all else. Pratt and Day are a dynamic duo, delivering a balanced contrast to both characters. And as for the accents, it’s such an incredible non-issue, so much so that there’s some sly references to it baked early on in the film.
Taylor-Joy is a great fit for Peach, someone who stands firm when it means defending her kingdom, but has an incredibly sweet and vulnerable side that is utilised to great effect without turning her into a damsel. And Black is near unrecognisable as Bowser. A gruff, growling juggernaut of brute force, Black is probably doing the most out of all his cast mates, putting his own stamp on the character, very much making it his own.
Super Marios Bros is akin to seeing old friends again for the first time in decades. For this writer, Super Mario Bros was the first game I had ever played as a child, leaving an indelible mark on me. With Illumination’s latest outing, it’s a joy – and relief – to see these characters and this universe treated with the respect they deserve. Between this and The Last of Us it feels like we’ve entered a winning video game adaptation streak and I, for one, hope it continues for quite some time.