The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a dazzling Super Star of a video game movie

Mario, Peach, and Toad look out onto the horizon in The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a lively, charming, and respectful animated movie (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Nintendo)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie: key information

- Launches in theaters on April 5
- Produced by Nintendo, Universal, and Illumination
- Stars Chris Pratt, Jack Black, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, and Keegan-Michael Key
- Written by Matthew Fogel
- Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
- 92-minute runtime

Since 1993, Super Mario Bros. has been a millstone around the Mario franchise's neck. The roundly vilified live-action movie has long been held up as an example of how not to adapt a game series theatrically. And yet, until recently, film studios continued to repeat the mistakes of Super Mario Bros. whenever they attempted to shepherd video game franchises onto the big screen.

Now, almost exactly 30 years on from Mario's first (and critically and commercially panned) cinematic outing, the legendary Italian plumber is back in movie form. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a joint venture from Nintendo, Universal Pictures, and Illumination Entertainment, aims to lay Mario's theatrical demons to rest for good… but does it?

In short: yes, with a resounding Mario-esque "Wahoo!" for good measure. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a delightfully fun-filled animated adventure flick that'll earn the adoration of Mario fanatics, video game enthusiasts, cinephiles, and more casual observers. Even better, it's everything I wanted from a Mario film: a bright, inventive, funny, richly detailed, feel-good, and incredibly entertaining movie that truly captures the spirit of Nintendo's iconic gaming franchise. 

A new kind of Mario Odyssey

Mario prepares to pounce in his cat costume in The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The Super Mario Bros. Movie stars Chris Pratt as the titular Italian plumber (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Nintendo)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie follows Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), inseparable Brooklyn-based brothers trying to get their plumbing startup off the ground.

While tackling a particularly big job, the siblings are unwittingly transported to another universe via a warp pipe. Along the way, Mario and Luigi become separated – Mario landing in the Mushroom Kingdom, and Luigi in the Dark Lands. Determined to be reunited with his younger brother, Mario enlists the help of the fearless Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), plucky and adventure-seeking Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), and stubborn but strong Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to find Luigi, who's been imprisoned by the power-hungry and maniacally ambitious Bowser (Jack Black).

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a Rainbow Road joy ride

The fire-breathing King of the Koopas seeks the Super Star, an item of unrivaled power that will aid his quest to become the tyrannical ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom and its neighboring realms. Mario and his friends, then, will have to pluck up the courage to not only save Luigi, but the entire world. No pressure, everyone.

Bowser laughs as he acquires the Super Star in The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Jack Black's Bowser is the real star of The Super Mario Bros. Movie. (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Nintendo)

Despite its title, The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn't actually introduce its lead stars in its first act. The film's opening sequence is devoted to Bowser and his search for the Super Star – essentially, it's a longer version of the scene we witnessed in the movie's first trailer. Mario-less it may be, but it's nonetheless a great opening to the film. It lays the foundations for the film's joke-centric vibe, and sells the extraordinary threat that Bowser and his army pose to this part of the Mario multiverse (more on this later).

That menacing tonality is aided by Bowser being voiced by someone as charismatic, and as humorously fiendish, as Black. The multi-talented entertainer is the star of the show (pun intended) as he plumbs (also pun intended) new depths of the multifaceted Bowser. As recent Mario games have shown, Bowser is more than a one-dimensional villain who's hellbent on world domination. He's a complex antagonist with his own insecurities, and Black does a stellar job of threading the needle between Bowser's ferocious, self-conscious, and uproarious personas. Black's Bowser commands a spine-tingling air of authority, with the actor's bellowing vocals amplifying the character's already expressive facial features and demeanor.

Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong, Toad, and Kranky Kong ride their karts in The Super Mario Bros. Movie

A new cinematic adventure, you say? Alright, let's-a-go! (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Nintendo)

But enough of the movie's primary antagonist – what about our heroes? And, more importantly, is Pratt's Mario voice actually as lousy as we suggested when The Super Mario Bros. Movie's first trailer was released?

Thankfully, no. The Guardians of the Galaxy star's take on the iconic character – one who's been voiced by Charles Martinet in the games since 1991 – isn't as disconcerting as the teaser footage makes out. Initially, it's a little off-putting, particularly when Pratt attempts to replicate Martinet's voice in an amusing, meta-esque commercial that Mario and Luigi make to promote their plumbing business early in the film. It's an unpalatable impression but, once Pratt's Brooklyn-inspired accent is engaged, it blends well with the amiable, assertive, and at-times anxious tonality he brings to the legendary character.

The supporting cast could have done with more thematic exploration and character development

After emerging from Mario's shadow in recent years – largely thanks to the Year of Luigi in 2013 – it's a tad disappointing that Mario's sibling receives limited screen time here. Luigi's small-scale character arc won't appease fans of the green clothes-wearing Nintendo figure, but the overall development he receives, plus his eventual importance to the plot – there's a reason why this film is called The Super Mario Bros. Movie – ends up being sufficient. The addition of a spooky, Luigi's Mansion-influenced sequence, which sees Luigi chased by a group of whimsically menacing Dry Bones, also makes for satisfying viewing.

Pleasingly, Taylor-Joy's Peach is given more to do than in early Mario games, too. The Mushroom Kingdom's leader is more than just another female character in need of rescuing, although there's a crowd-pleasing "the princess is in another castle" joke for fans of a certain disposition. Taylor-Joy imbues Peach with a quiet confidence and bravery in keeping with her royal station – and, even more delightfully, she actually gets some of the best action sequences in the whole movie. Peach's backstory would have benefitted from some additional plot exposition, though – as it is, it's largely skipped over all too briefly.

Bob-omb blows and Easter eggs galore

Donkey Kong smirks as he holds two barrels in The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Donkey Kong and other supporting characters could have used a bit more screen time. (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Nintendo)

Truth be told, The Super Mario Bros. Movie's supporting cast could all have done with a bit more thematic exploration and/or greater character development.

Sure, it's primarily a kid's movie, so a deep dive into each individual's motivation, history, and other important plot-based elements might be deemed superfluous. But, with its brisk runtime of 92 minutes, an additional scene or two expanding upon specific characters' vulnerabilities or backstories wouldn't have gone amiss. An extended sequence of Mario and Donkey Kong bonding over their inability to impress their fathers, for instance, would have tugged at the heartstrings, while allowing Key's comedic background to really shine through in Toad, too, wouldn't have impacted the film's duration.

In fact, the biggest criticism I can level at The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the breeziness of its plot. Like a fast-paced Mario Kart race, it hurries along at breakneck pace, especially early on, as the movie double-dashes towards the crux of its story. In some ways, that's a good thing – as a viewer, you're not asked to sit through middling or unnecessary story beats and scenes that could have been cut from the final product. On the other hand, the manner in which the film hurtles through its opening act makes it feel occasionally rushed.

Taylor-Joy imbues Peach with a quiet confidence and bravery

Once The Super Mario Bros. Movie settles into an evenly paced film, it's a Rainbow Road joy ride that just asks you to find every Easter egg and secrets to Mario's game series, as well as games starring his contemporaries.

Some call backs are more obvious than others – the aforementioned Rainbow Road, the cringe-inducing Donkey Kong Rap, Cheep Cheep bridge, appearances from King Bob-omb and King Boo, and fire and ice flowers being five such additions. Others, such as a near-identical replica of World 1-1 from 1985's Super Mario Bros. game in one side-scrolling-inspired sequence, will only be noticeable to the expertly trained eye. Indeed, the game series' side-scrolling elements lend themselves perfectly to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, with each sequence bringing a brilliant and unexpected degree of verticality to proceedings. See if you can pick out which characters Mario's original voice actor Charles Martinet plays here, too, before the credits roll.

Luigi tries to hold off an army of Dry Bones in The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Luigi is as integral to the story as Mario is, even if his character arc is smaller (Image credit: Nintendo/Universal Studios)

Fans of the game franchise's instantly recognizable music won't be disappointed, either. Unsurprisingly, original composer Koji Kondo's score is threaded through The Super Mario Bros. Movie – it wouldn't be a proper Mario movie without it, after all. Film composer Brian Tyler also finds a delicate balance between honoring Kondo's work and introducing original motifs; a musical marriage that's equal parts harmonious and rhythmical. 

The addition of iconic 80s songs, such as Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero and A-ha's Take on Me, serve as further nods to the era Mario and his fellow gaming icons were born in. Oh, and if you were holding out hope for numbers from the musically talented members of the movie's cast, such as Key and Black, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Bowser's ditty, in particular, will draw plenty of laughs.

My verdict

The greatest compliment I can pay to The Super Mario Bros. Movie is that I couldn't stop smiling throughout its runtime. It's a highly enjoyable, nostalgia-fueled family-friendly film stuffed with visually arresting imagery, slapstick gags, countless secrets, and a rich thematic heart. Frankly, it's just wonderful to see a good Mario movie get made – one that superbly pays homage to Nintendo's legendary franchise, and Mario's legacy in the video game space.

It's also a film that only scratches the surface of the game series' untapped potential from a cinematic universe perspective. There are many directions that a Mario film series could go in – as one of The Super Mario Bros. Movie's post-credits scenes teases, Nintendo, Universal, and Illumination seem to have an idea of where to take the movie series next – and whichever direction that is, I'll be there, rooting for them to deliver another first-rate Mario movie. Off the back of this flick, you can bet all of your gold, red, and blue coins on them succeeding, too.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie debuts in theaters on April 5.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across. Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.