26 April 2023

First Impressions: The Super Mario Movie

Crap, I think this was the first movie I've seen in theaters since 3000 Years of Longing (2022). That was a long dark winter. But Mario is here to brighten up your day! This will be our official SPOILER-heavy impressions where we just ramble on for a while about this film, so stay tuned.

I liked this bastard a lot. It somehow felt really fresh despite being full of one of the most-repeated video game stories of all time. I sat there watching it thinking, "This would make a good video game!" which was a positively bizarre sentiment. I honestly don't know why I liked this. The gripes I usually have were all there. It was rushed, full of fan service, and most character decisions were blatantly unmotivated. But it drilled down into the most important thing a movie can do - be charming and fun! It is truly amazing when this aspect is nailed, how many more small details can easily be forgotten.

There are some great story beats right off the bat. Mario and Luigi are starting their own plumbing business in Brooklyn, NY, USA and are called on to fix a wealthy couples' house. Luigi steps on a dog bone, breaks it, and amazingly, there are real consequences! The dog attacks, the house is ruined, and they're forced to seek bigger and better jobs. It's cunning writing from a "this happens so this happens" standpoint.

Don't get too excited. There is a lot that is just there. I'm curious how a lay-person would feel in this film. Bowser is there with his huge army because he's Bowser. This is just a conceit we have whenever we boot up any innumerable Mario game from the past forty years. It's weird but at this point it's iconic so we give it a pass. Power-ups, mushrooms, it's all just there and we accept it. My guess is I would have had a tougher time rolling with nonsense had I been a bit more unfamiliar with the whole deal. The movie does a good of a job as it's going to just letting us swallow this stuff, they definitely focus on power-ups a good deal, which is fine, but that's the only bit that felt slightly like cheating. Like, when Peach whips out the Ice Flower I can imagine folks being "Oh, that's just super convenient writing!" But no, the Ice Flower is totally thing and definitely plausible! They probably should have hinted at it earlier to make the writing more crisp.

There is a lot of just going with it. Mario arrives at Peach's Castle and asks to join her to convince the Kong Army to defeat Bowser so he can save his brother, Luigi. Peach is like, "Sure, pass this platforming challenge and you can come!" Mario definitely fails but she's just like "That's okay, we need to get on with the movie." This happens constantly. Things are just there for fun. Mario definitely cheats to defeat DK for the right to employ the Kong Army, and Cranky's just like "Hey, that's cool, now we need Karts!" and then it goes into a whole Mario Kart Sequence.

But this didn't make me upset. I know, it's shocking. Maybe it's just how they found an organic way to recreate World 1-1, or throw in Easter Eggs ranging from scuttlebugs to Cappy. There's elements of almost every game from Galaxy to Odyssey. A surprisingly lot from the latter, actually. All I really wanted was for Mario to spin Bowser by the tail like in 64. And he does!! I cheered. That's so fan service-y of me. The Rainbow Road was most similar to Super Circuit. Bizarre. But it branched off like Yoshi Valley. Now I want a Rainbow Road Yoshi Valley. I truly wonder how much of this movie will seep into future games, because movies do tend to standardize things. And Mario aesthetics (not gameplay) are getting stale anyway these days.

There's one genuinely horrifying moment of Luigi in the Dark Land fighting off Dry Bones, Shy Guys, and Snippets. It's a wonderful test of character. I love how Luigi is just known as the scared joke character now. In fitting fashion, most of this movie is about how Luigi isn't in this movie. More 64 references! It was a great turn to make him into the typical Princess Peach role. The moustache in distress. Because Luigi sucks anyway, and to stay true to the character now is to sideline him from the adventure.

And since we're massive Kong Fans, oh boy was there a lot in there for us. This had to be a testing ground for a DK movie, right? Why else would you include Chunky Kong? DK was a pretty nuanced character here, with daddy issues, big and brash, but childish. Where is our Brothers Bear movie?! My other fist bumping moment was the DK Rap. The Fucking DK Rap, people. You want to talk all-time character introductions? It all fits spectacularly well. The DK movie needs to be coming.

The Mario Kart sequence, while definitely forced, was amazing. There's literally a Kart Selection scene straight out of Mario Kart 8. It made me think of Battleship (2012), how the best scene in that movie is the somehow organic re-creation of the actual board game. Like, it was super faithful but also felt natural. Amazing. Also, now I really want Mario Kart game where if you're hit with a shell your Kart actually explodes and takes damage and you have to find or steal a new one. Or where you could climb on other Karts. That would rule. I'm going to go ahead and plug our sideblog, Blue Shell News here...

Now, it's not all great. We were skeptical of the voice acting when it was all announced, and yeah, we were right to be. Chris Pratt isn't great, I just never lose myself in him. Charlie Day is a bit better but still not great. I hate to say it, I think they would have done better to stick with the accents they put on in the Commercial to start out. It's a cartoon, man, it can be cartoon-y. Anya Taylor-Joy doesn't bring much Joy to Peach and Fred Armisen just doesn't sound like a grumpy old Cranky Kong. It doesn't really work.

Except Kevin Michael Richardson as Kamek, Keegan Michael-Key as Toad (I can't tell it's him at all), Seth Rogen surprisingly fits Donkey Kong despite being very Seth Rogen-y (maybe it's just voice experience?). And Jack Black is a magnificent Bowser. He doesn't scat at all! He does get some songs in, which are just wonderful. It's underrated how much Jack Black is accepting his back-up roles in his older age but remaining very weird and funny. You can definitely hear his Jack Black-ness but it's not that distracting.

I also didn't really like the Penguin and other Head Toad character having these uber-serious voices that are immediately undercut. It's not a very good joke, if they're cute, let them be cute, like how does that reality work? I could do with out it all. Cringe, baby. So cringe.

This is all a big turn for Illumination, who is usually just the worst damn studio there is. I don't even know how many Minions movies they have out now, but they basically churn out that drivel for kids along with Sing (2016) and Secret Life of Pets (2016), which just have no value at all besides celebrity voices. I was honestly sitting there watching previews for all this sheer crap like a new Trolls movie and even Pixar's new Elementals (2023), which looks like the same fucking movie they've been making for the past twenty years (admittedly with some really cool looking Fire animation) and then Migration (2023) dropped and I took notice. That looks really beautiful and mellow. I'm into it. I can get behind this. I've never seen a studio put so many clips of their own crappy work in a trailer before. It was almost to serve to show how much they're willing to change and move beyond the vapid colors and shallow efforts of the past. I'm surprisingly down with Illumination now.

That's also because The Super Mario Bros Movie largely avoids the kind of cringe humour of adults trying to be cool or chasing trends like so many of these and Dreamworks' movies do. It's remarkably fresh while being stunning to look at.

I really dug this - heavy recommend, maybe especially for non-fans. I'm eternally curious if you'd be able to make any sense of this thing or if you'd just be along for the ride like I was!
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