Where Sega’s Sonic adaptationswent live action, The Super Mario Bros. Movie remains entirely animated, perhaps an unsurprising decision given the questionable 1993 adaptation starring Bob Hoskins. Taking as little creative liberty as possible with the property, Illumination have created as blandly safe a version of the Mushroom Kingdom as one could imagine, further diluted by no less than four credited directors. Although the vibrant animation is of perfectly serviceable quality (generally on par with high end videogame cutscenes), it rarely feels like we are experiencing unseen detail in these faithfully recreated characters. The backlash to Chris Pratt’s casting proves unwarranted — it is just one of many safe choices the filmmakers made (including ditching the iconic Italian accents in favour of standard American) — and although the main cast consists of high profile actors rather than professional voice actors, only Jack Black’s rock anthem-singing, incel Bowser is particularly recognisable (which also adds the most fresh characterisation). Anya Taylor-Joy’s Princess Peach is thankfully modelled on the capable Super Marios Bros. 2 Peach rather than a damsel in distress, though she is the film’s only notable female presence. The primary concession to adult viewers is the soundtrack, with unexpected choices like the Beastie Boys and a reference to Kill Bill, but the story is unlikely to engage beyond the nostalgia value of the IP (and a deeply cynical Lumalee). Younger children will likely be sufficiently entertained but older children, who will not even benefit from nostalgia, are likely to lose interest. It is understandable that Nintendo might be risk-averse with Mario’s first cinematic outting since having their fingers burned 30 years ago, but but avoiding “bad” has left The Super Mario Bros. Movie stranded in mediocrity.
Once the latest craze becomes mainstream, it is only a matter of time before Hollywood seeks to cash in with a formulaic script and general disregard for the specific nuance of its subject matter. Escape Room‘s by-the-numbers horror is doubly burdened by the fact that the Saw series has already trodden much of this ground with a sharper bite. The film is rarely sympathetic towards its victims, lured into and trapped in a series of deadly puzzle rooms, treating their past trauma merely as plot points. There is mild entertainment to be found in the initial stages as the strangers meet and realise their circumstance. From there it swiftly loses its way, less engaging the more elaborate it becomes.
“Well, you grow up your whole lives together, you make excuses for people.”
Astrid Young Teo
Notable as a very rare Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast, it is great to see a film like Crazy Rich Asians succeed but that does not automatically elevate it beyond a derivative romantic comedy. A few early scenes suggest an insightful wit, like news spreading to family in Singapore through gossiping message chains before the end of a conversation in a New York. Yet, for most of the running time, the Singaporean location serves as set dressing, only occasionally touching upon the family dynamics specific to the Chinese diaspora. The film’s chief issue is wanting to have its cake and eat it — telling the story of a modest outsider rebuffed by a wealthy family, whilst at the same time glamourising the indulgence afforded by that wealth. The rare big budget representation in Crazy Rich Asians is welcome, featuring a who’s who of Western Asian actors, but — like many of its privileged characters — there is a disappointing superficiality to its success.
“That’s good. It’s good to be positive despite making zero progress in a year.”
The level of smartness of this sequel is evident from the fact they failed to call it Now You Don’t. Where the original was a surprise success with stylish sleight of hand distracting from its lack of substance, this movie fails to cover its tracks at all. The freshness is gone, but so too is the tension. The tricks are now overblown and ridiculous, to the point that each time one is revealed it induces a groan rather than amazement. There is no magic here.