Ready to work: Mario strives to rescue his brother in ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE *** (92 minutes) PG
All glistening and gleaming and colourful and lovely and straight from corporate headquarters comes The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the long-awaited animated fantasy action film carefully designed for the whole family to love and enjoy in all its vertically integrated glory.
After an opening segment set in the “real world”, New York plumbing brothers Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are transported into the alter-verse of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The place is run by the attractive Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is readying her citizens to a hostile takeover from the villainous Bowser (Jack Black), into whose hands Luigi has fallen, and who Mario is determined to rescue, his infatuation with Princess Peach notwithstanding.
Careful to regularly punch Mario’s devotion to Luigi, thereby fortifying the film’s family values credentials, directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (both made Teen titans Go! To the Movies) keep the laughs coming and the pace brisk, with much of the action cheekily resembling the gameplay familiar to billions of people on Earth.
The radiantly coloured hi-quality animation is pleasing to the eye, especially in its rendering of water; there’s a vivid sense of scale to the lark along with some very swanky tracking shots.
Sleeky designed as the film is to keep everyone happy, it is interesting how the makers were willing to risk a G rating by infusing a little darkness into the proceedings. This includes a torture scene and the presence of a joyfully fatalistic prison inmate who cheerfully declares: “There is no escape; the only relief is death.”
As is often the case in movies, the most engaging character here is the bad guy; Bowser is not really so much a villain as a doomed romantic whose threatening veneer of aggression and anti-cute hostility hides a lovelorn heart. Gifted with a wonderful singing voice and a songwriting talent to match, the poor shlub just wants to hug, not to hate.
He’s so endearing, in fact, it does leave the film with its one story flub and a somewhat mishandled finale that might leave a sour aftertaste for adult viewers who, as we all intuitively know, are not the primary demographic the executive team at Nintendo had in mind when they decided to forge ahead with a film that would hopefully erase all memory of the cult-level badness in 1993’s Super Mario Bros film.
Perhaps, like Zurg in Toy Story, Bowser shall find redemption in the inevitable sequel.
This deep into the 21st century we are all long passed the point of worrying or getting too cynical about films based on pre-existing products, such as toys, games, comic books and so forth, all of which the film is there to help promote.
As the Batman, Transformer and Marvel films have demonstrated – oh, and DC, of course; nearly forgot – all that really matters to the mass market is that people get something fun and reliably entertaining that will pass the time in a pleasant manner.
It’s a principle that applies to all the other associated products up and down the line. People don’t care if the film comes from a spreadsheet, all they ask is for a little bit of heart to show through.
We know from bitter experience that’s not always the case. Happily, with The Super Mario Bros. Movie it is the case, and for that we can be mildly grateful.
AIR ***1/2 (112 minutes) M
More a film about the business of sport than a sports film per se, Air is an adroit dramatization of the 1980s merchandising deal that made history and reformatted the formula, while making everybody involved very rich.
With generous dollops of humour greasing the narrative cogs, the brisk true-life story follows the efforts of Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), an out-of-shape shoe salesman in the struggling basketball division of the otherwise successful Nike sports gear company.
Hobbled by limited funds and little moral support from his untrusting bosses (played with light-hearted grit by Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman and Ben Affleck), Vaccaro honours the Nike Code – oft-quoted and displayed prominently in the office – by bending the rules and coming up with a crazy outside-the-box idea.
Thanks to his eye for spotting promising talent, he tracks the largely unheralded genius of a young Michael Jordan, a basketballer he sees as a hot prospect nobody else has yet bothered to pay any sensible attention.
As a man with is job and reputation on the line, Damon is a coil of just-do-it energy fuelled by nerves and bravado in equal measure as he fights to win over his naysayers before confronting the ultimate hurdle, Jordan’s no-nonsense, business-savvy mother Deloris (Viola Davis, superb as usual).
Proving again what an assured and economic director he is – the film’s relatively scant running time reflects some admirably lean storytelling – Affleck drives the film with lively camerawork and by repeatedly punching the principles of persistence, vision and crazy-brave tactics, such as when Vaccaro defies corporate protocol by approaching Jordan’s family without permission or even a phone call.
The exacting period recreation is covered with casual grandeur, so kudos to veteran cinematographer Robert Richardson – Oscar winner for The Aviator, Hugo and JFK – for making the 1980s breathe so effortlessly.
It’s a breezy, enjoyable, fabulously acted film, the only real downside being how there’s no real tension built into the story.
We all know how things turns out, that everybody came out smiling having made a motza. Everybody wins here, which is nice, but we see it coming and there are few surprises.
To his credit, and in one of his finest turns yet, Damon looks precisely as unfit as he’s supposed to, his flabby physique a long way from his lithe Bourne days – though, in the wake of The Whale it could just be great make-up.
As for Affleck, it’s another winner after The Town, Gone Baby Gone and Argo. If only he’d hang up the Batsuit and just make movies like this from now on.