Should You, a Grown-Up, See ‘The Super Mario Bros.’ Movie in the Theater?

THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE from left Mario  Luigi  2023. © Universal Pictures  Courtesy Everett Collection

THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE, from left: Mario (voice: Chris Pratt), Luigi (voice: Charlie Day), 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection
It’s-a the biggest video-game movie of all time. But if you’re wondering whether one needs to be a child (or an adult who has written Mario Kart fanfic) to enjoy this unexpected box office smash, we’ve got you.

Since landing in theaters on April 5, The Super Mario Bros. movie has been raking in gold coins at the box office. The $600-plus million so far has cemented it as the highest-grossing film based on a video game (despite Uwe Boll’s best efforts). The film, which borrows heavily from a lot of Mario-centric video games, is such a pop-culture phenomenon that it even inspired a backlash, with a vocal minority of fans loudly objecting to decidedly non-Italian-American actor Chris Pratt voicing the mustachioed driver. With a stacked cast (Anya Taylor-Joy and Jack Black also star) plus that box office haul, one must ask: Is the Mario movie actually good? Do you have to be a devotee of the video game franchise to enjoy this film? Let’s figure it out.

Who is Mario? 

Mario and his brother Luigi are the heroes of the video game franchise and the film. They are brothers with enormous mustaches who run a plumbing company.

Is the movie about a plumbing company? 

No, that’s just exposition. Mario and Luigi are soon transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, ruled by Princess Peach. In the games as well as in the movie, Princess Peach and Mario are romantically linked. But the Mushroom Kingdom is threatened by Bowser, King of the Koopas (turtle-like beings), who wants to control the Mushroom Kingdom and marry Peach.

Do I need to have played all the games to truly appreciate the movie?

In a word, no. But the Super Mario Bros. Movie will entertain video game nerds and novices alike. The lore isn’t that complicated, for one—but like any good adaptation, audiences who don’t know it will still be entertained.

But, of course, there is fan service in the form of Easter eggs and other Nintendo-specific references. For example, the moment when Mario, Peach, Toad and Donkey Kong are ambushed on Rainbow Road by Bowser’s lackeys—this is a shoutout to anyone who spent time trying to master this track on Mario Kart, the crown jewel of the Mario franchise.

Is this just a kid’s movie? Would it be weird for me, an adult, to see it in the theater alone or with my adult friends?

Mario and his pals have been around since the 1980s. Some of us were introduced to him on our Gameboys, early in the ‘90s, or even further back, on arcade screens. Others met the gang on more advanced systems. A level of familiarity with the games will surely enhance the experience. As Polygon noted, “This new take on Mario is so faithful in its efforts to recreate iconography from four decades of video games that there’s almost no energy left to expend on reaching the unconverted.” But really, the film will work for anyone, regardless of whether you played Mario Kart on an N64 or Super Mario Odyssey on Switch. As is the case with most of these animated adaptations, the movie is rife with pop culture references, humor and innuendos meant to connect with adults first and foremost.

But, yes, this movie is rated PG. As Indiewire so generously put it in their review, “Parents shouldn’t expect a Pixar-level experience, but Matthew Fogel’s script has as at least much narrative heft as the best Mario games. Kids’ movies can be — and often are — so much worse.” There is a somewhat touching (and almost completely out of place) scene where Donkey Kong and Mario bond over how their dads never take them or their decisions seriously. This pathos is somewhat diminished, given that the characters are a gorilla and a stereotype, but it undoubtedly resonates with some kiddos, and could be a nice moment to share within a family. Ultimately, it is truly  “for all ages.”

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