I’m a lifelong Nintendo fan and have dreamed of an animated, reference-filled Mario movie since I was a kid back in the 90s. My excitement for this movie was tempered, however, when it was announced that Illumination was helming the project. Illumination is, frankly, the worst of the big animation studios. In more capable hands, this could have been something truly special. Unfortunately, Illumination staples are ever present, like their gratuitous use of slow motion to punctuate silly action beats, ill-fitting pop songs, and lowest common denominator “jokes.” If the humor in the trailers didn’t do it for you, rest assured that the actual movie isn’t much better. One thing I was pleasantly surprised by, however, was the voice acting. The trailers made the voice acting sound awful, but in the final product, I thought everyone—yes, even Chris Pratt—did a pretty good job.
One reason why the voice acting works so well is that the characters hardly say anything. Luigi is barely in the movie, and Mario spends more time running and fighting in action sequences than he does talking to other people. And that’s really my main beef here. The story is extremely slim. There are zero character moments. It feels like you are basically watching someone else play a video game, because you have no connection to anything. And yeah, I get that the Mario games are not known for their deep plots, but this is a movie. You’re allowed to inject some “movie” into it! Instead, we are rushed from action sequence to action sequence with little to no context or justification. Mario enters the Mushroom Kingdom and is immediately greeted by Toad, who immediately escorts him to the princess without question, who immediately recruits him to help her stop Bowser. Like, can we stop and breathe for a moment?!
Nowhere is this frenetic pace more evident than in the soundtrack. Ignoring the pop songs, the soundtrack is a lovely blend of nostalgic Mario tunes mixed with standard movie epicness. But they tried to cram too much nostalgia into each song, and the same action sequence will mutate through 3-4 familiar jingles in a matter of seconds. Again, slow the eff down and let us enjoy things! This movie is undoubtedly going to do well and spawn at least one sequel, so some of these references, both physical and musical, could have been saved for later. They did not need to expend all 40 years of Mario in their first outing. But I get it. A Mario movie practically demands you fill it with Easter eggs. And these references don’t feel gimmicky at all, because they’re still part of the same universe. In that regard, the movie looks great and is fun to watch at a surface level. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t have gotten something even better.