Review: ‘Tetris’ and ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ deliver a double dose of Nintendo nostalgia

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Mario' & 'Tetris' (Part 1)

Hollywood delivers a double dose of Nintendo nostalgia this week with a pair of video game adaptations. One is a fictional tale set inside the animated fantasy world of the game itself, the other is a true story of the real-life maneuvering and cutthroat business deals behind the scenes that brought the game to homes around the world.

Universal Pictures’ “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” opens in theaters nationwide, while the biopic “Tetris” is now streaming on Apple TV+. I’ve been a huge fan of both games since my very first Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. Many gamers had to blow on the cartridge to get it to work, but our console was so peculiar that it only worked if you pushed the cartridge in but didn’t push it down. Suffice it to say, the Gameboy was an upgrade!

Thankfully, the two new movies don’t require blowing on any cartridges or charging the batteries of your handheld device — simply buy a ticket to the multiplex or press play on your remote to fire up your Apple TV+ subscription.

As Mario would say, “Here we go!”

‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

The 1993 live-action flick was a flop, despite the best efforts of Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi and Dennis Hopper as Bowser. It only makes sense now that Hollywood turns to computer animation for the new “Super Mario Bros. Movie,” directed by the duo of Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic of the Cartoon Network series “Teen Titans Go!” with animation rendered by Illumination, best known for “Despicable Me” and “Sing.”

Chris Pratt (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) voice Mario and Luigi, who battle the evil Bowser (Jack Black, “School of Rock”) with the help of Toad (Keegan-Michael Key, “Keanu”) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy, already a royal from “The Queen’s Gambit”). While the princess was always “in another castle” in the original 1985 game, her ability to fly made her the best choice in the 1988 sequel game.

Is the movie as exciting as the video games? Can it top Pedro Pascal’s recent “Mario Kart” spoof on “Saturday Night Live?” Or is that merely a pipe dream? I’ll let y’all know when I see it. Until then, let’s talk “Tetris.”


If you don’t feel like suspending your disbelief to enter a fictional “Super Mario World,” you might instead try streaming the Apple original “Tetris,” which is a surprisingly compelling look at the making-of the game.

Taron Egerton (“Rocketman,” “Black Bird”) plays Henk Rogers, an American entrepreneur who lives with his wife in Japan but is constantly traveling. He first eyes Tetris at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, trying to obtain the rights for Bullet-Proof Software in a race against Andromeda Software rep Robert Stein (Toby Jones) and Mirrorsoft C.E.O. Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) and his British media mogul father Robert (Roger Allam).

The tension escalates when Henk flies behind enemy lines to Moscow in an attempt to obtain the international licensing rights to the rotating block game created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), who works for the state-owned Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG). The Soviet Union is a suspenseful “Damocles Sword” of danger where Oleg Stefan shines as Nikolai Belikov with a stone-faced knack for bluffing contract negotiations.

Who knew that sterile business meetings could be this riveting? Director Jon S. Baird (BAFTA nominee for “Stan & Ollie”) and screenwriter Noah Pink (Emmy nominee for Nat Geo’s “Genius”) convince us that Henk helped the U.S. win the Cold War as much as Ronald Reagan vs. Mikhail Gorbachev or Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago. As pixilated Tetris pieces dissolve into real buildings, we fully believe that tumbling blocks helped “tear down this wall.”

It might not win Oscars like “The Social Network” (2010), the definitive tech biopic with the generational talents of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, not to mention a career-best performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg, Andrew Garfield as scorned friend Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, and Rooney Mara as “refreshing” ex-girlfriend Erica Albright.

Still, “Tetris” is darn good. As the credits roll, you’ll understand why the classic video game always boasted Russian music, as film composer Lorne Balfe cleverly mixes the Nintendo theme “Korobeiniki” with Europe’s rock hit “The Final Countdown” to rousing, almost euphoric effect. Good luck getting the music out of your head — on second thought, let it linger as a reminder that compelling characters are the building blocks of any stellar adaptation.

I’d keep writing but the lines are filling up and I can’t flip the pieces quickly enough.

Oh no, a long piece!

A block piece!

Fast music!

Game over.

4 stars

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Mario' & 'Tetris' (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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