Mama Mia! The Super Mario Bros. Movie Sucked!
I had low expectations when I went to the theater to see the The Super Mario Bros. Movie, but somehow it was worse than I was prepared for. Maybe that’s my fault for having at least a shred of hope going in, as I had seen from several trusted sources that it wasn’t actually that bad. Those trusted sources were wrong. It is that bad.
(Spoilers will be in this review!)
I’ve always believed that there are good bad movies, and bad bad movies. The Super Mario Bros. Movie falls into the bad bad category, as it was very unenjoyable to watch, and I almost regret spending money on a ticket to it.
Many of the problems I have with the movie are problems that I consistently have with pretty much any Illumination Studios movie. Too much unfitting licensed music crammed in, unfunny jokes, flat characters, weak plots, and cringe worthy dialogue.
In The Super Mario Bros. Movie‘s case, it’s a little more complicated. It’s a video game movie, meaning there is already an established world in which they are building their story, and established characters they are using. How they portray both of these pre-existing elements is essential. The answer ends up being, they portray it pretty much how the games do: nonsensically. Why is there a mushroom that makes you big? Why is the villain a giant lizard guy? Why is there a flower that gives you fire or ice power? Who knows!
The pre-existing lore and worldbuilding mechanics aren’t really explained in the movie, it just is the way it is. You get a mushroom, you get a racing kart, you punch the bad guy. What more do you want from a Mario movie?
And yet, it’s so lacking.
Mario and Luigi are introduced as normal plumbers from Brooklyn, who accidentally stumble into a pipe deep underground that leads them to the actual Mario world. They get separated, and Mario sets out on a quest to find/rescue Luigi. In doing so, he meets Princess Peach who is on a quest to defeat Bowser before he reaches the Mushroom Kingdom.
For some reason, she lets him tag along despite knowing him for all of two minutes. And then when she insists on none of the Toads accompanying her, one of them says “I’m going anyways,” and she lets him. Why did she do either of these things?
They go to the Jungle Kingdom to enlist the help of the Kong army, which they can only gain by defeating their champion, Donkey Kong, in combat. To make the competition between Donkey Kong and Mario more fair, King Cranky Kong – Donkey Kong’s dad – includes power-ups in the arena so Mario stands a chance. Why did he do this against his own son and interests? If he didn’t want to hand over his army to begin with, why agree to a duel at all, and why include advantages for your opponent?
Later on, Peach tells the Mushroom Kingdom to evacuate while she stays behind, alone, to fight Bowser. The same Toad that came along on the journey in the first place says he wants to stay by her side, and again she lets him. As soon as Bowser arrives, he proposes to Peach, and she refuses. Bowser begins torturing the Toad, forcing Princess Peach to agree to marriage.
You know what could’ve prevented that from happening? If she had told the Toad no, and not let him attempt to fight by her side. Why would you let a Toad attempt to fight Bowser?! What combat experience does this Toad have? How would he be useful at all? All he ended up being was something Bowser could use against her. Did she really think he would contribute anything to the fight other than be something for her to worry about?
The character motivations in this movie are strange, if not entirely nonexistent. None of the choices any characters make make a whole lot of sense, they are all just very plot convenient.
Aside from the characters’ choices being questionable, they are all pretty boring. Nobody really stands out as being particularly interesting, funny, smart, or having any memorable attributes. There is no three-dimensionality to any of them, they are all just things that the plot happens to.
Their interactions with one another are probably the most uninteresting aspect of the entire movie. Every piece of dialogue said between characters is so painfully generic. You know how many versions of “our adventure begins now” or “let’s go on our great adventure” is said throughout the film? Too many! It’s pretty much the entire reason the trailer got meme’d on when Mario says “Mushroom Kingdom, here we come.” It’s just… sad.
You know what’s even worse than generic and boring interactions between characters? When characters don’t even interact at all! I’m talking of course about the fact that Mario and Bowser don’t even meet until the very end. There is no tension, banter, or classic hero/villain interactions leading up to the big fight at the end, it just is the big fight at the end. They barely speak three words to each other before Bowser kicks Mario’s teeth in. The trailer made it seem like Bowser and Luigi would have some interesting scenes together. But that scene in the trailer was their scene together. That was it! You get just one of them interacting before the final fight.
I could probably forgive all the grievances I have regarding characters and plot if the movie was funny and entertaining, but it’s really not. There’s a lot of attempts at humor, but it all falls totally flat. There’s a part where Princess Peach saves Toad, and he says “now that is how you princess!” Really? Really? Good one, Toad.
Some of the attempted humor comes from pairing licensed music with whatever scene is happening. For example, “Holding Out For A Hero” is played while Mario is learning to use power-ups and whatnot so he can stand a chance at facing Bowser. They also did “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” when they were in Brooklyn in the beginning. Very clever.
Another attempt at humor I couldn’t stand was all the slo-mo. Having Mario jump over an obstacle and narrowly avoid it while saying “mama mia” in slow motion was a little funny the first time, much less so the fourth time.
I’m not saying there weren’t at least some funny parts. In fact, I thought the nihilistic imprisoned Luma that could clearly escape its cage was one of the best parts of the movie. I chuckled at least one time, if not twice, even, but largely the jokes were subpar. Which is unfortunate because you kind of need humor to carry in kiddie movies like this where the plot and character development is supremely lacking.
I know what you’re all thinking, it’s a video game movie, you’re asking too much from it!
Am I though?
Just because it’s a video game movie, or a kids’ movie, or a Mario movie for that matter, does that mean it should just be bad and we should just accept that? No! We deserve good movies! Video game movies have a track record of being bad, but that doesn’t mean they have to be, or that we shouldn’t hope that they can be more.
I think my biggest disappointment with this movie is exactly that. It could’ve been more. But Illumination knows that their movies don’t actually have to be good to make money. Hence why their only good movie, Despicable Me, was their first movie. Once they learned that they didn’t have to try in order to make absolute bank on those little yellow fuckers, it was all over.
I don’t expect Illumination will ever put out another good movie. It’s been thirteen years and twelve movies since Despicable Me, and they have only garbage to show for it. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is certainly no exception.