Minor spoilers ahead: you’ll know more than if you just watched a trailer, but not enough to spoil the film massively.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 was my favourite game growing up. Not that I played much – I was the Player 2 star, Luma, meaning my abilities were limited to lazily grabbing the occasional bonus coin while Player 1 flailed about as Mario.
The cynics of the cinema might suggest Nintendo are out to grab a few bonus coins themselves with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, over 800 million at the current count. They might be right about the profit, but they’re wrong about the movie.
Usually you get a plot synopsis here, but what’s the point? Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser’s coming and he’s got Luigi. If you get lost at any point, Peach or Toad will drop in a bit of expositionary dialogue to boost you along. Let the fun begin.
The animation is bold and beautiful. Perhaps it doesn’t have the panache of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, but Nintendo has aimed high when it comes to colour, creativity and delivering a good “camera” angle instead of animating everything like a Mario game level.
Credit to the filmmakers for the casting. I was worried Chris Pratt as Mario was going to sound like me trying to order Fettuccine Alfredo at my local Italian, but him and Charlie Day make you forget all that nonsense you read online within the first few minutes. Charlie Day as Luigi is, if anything, underused, and the brotherly relationship is one of a couple of neat character angles Matthew Fogel serves up to you like a homemade lasagne.
You can see why the critics aren’t fans: the plot looks suspiciously like various bits of Mario IP stitched together with a few “yahoos!”; Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong section in the middle doesn’t reward you half much as a halfway flag in a Mario level; the screenwriters have tried so hard to power-up Anya Taylor-Joy’s Princess Peach, she’s sadly ended up as a heroine so flat it’s as if she’s been ground-pounded, and only serves to remind us how Bowser is definitely very, very evil. Sure, the soundtrack is like having every Mario tune from the last 40 years stuffed in your ears, but what else were you buying the ticket for?
Jack Black is an obvious score as Bowser, once you get over the initial fact it sounds as if Po from Kung Fu Panda has gone through a very concerning moral and physical transformation. The marriage angle on the character uses Jack Black’s skills to the maximum and elevates his relationships with others to more than just evil Bowser.
I can’t decide about the pacing. On the one hand, the movie dashes along like Rainbow Mario and delivers an hour and a half of psychedelic but carefully-trimmed fun. There are points though, particularly with the Mario and Luigi relationship, Peach’s backstory, or Po’s Evil Twin – sorry, Bowser – just jamming out on his piano, where you want a little more. Oh well, it’ll be a franchise at this rate.
Does Mario one-up other video game-movie competitors such as Sonic? Absolutely. It’s sitting on a far richer world and has better characters, so even when there’s no good reason for a Bullet Bill to appear, I don’t mind that much. Mario doesn’t have to compromise with the real world and live-action characters like Sonic: it delivers a white-gloved punch of animated joy.
If you know your Goombas from your Koopas and your Kameks from your karts, this movie will make you feel like you’re sitting back at whichever Nintendo console you first met that little, moustached man. If you’re a film aficionado who thinks a Mini Mushroom is what they’re searching you at airports for, then maybe not. Looking for deep and meaningful cinema? Wait for Barbie in July instead. But for the person looking for a way to switch off, grab your Luigi and cry “Mamma Mia!”: Super Mario, as it always has been, is the way to let’s-a-go.