Cinema Screenings—The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Spoilers, ahoy!

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (SMBM) is an apology for Super Mario Bros. “This Ain’t No Game” crushing dreams and ruining childhoods in 1993. It was a disaster that spawned comparable offspring—a slew of movie adaptations of video games so abysmal that the genre became an anachronistic meme before 56k internet became mainstream. In desperate defense of our dashed hopes, we desperately adopted these these atrocities and have since defended them as “camp.” Cheese like Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider in mind; the former probably makes for an okay watch in states where marijuana is legal, and the latter for those who couldn’t get enough of Angelina Jolie in Foxfire or Gia. And we ain’t talking because of her acting.

SMBM demonstrates that its production team learned valuable lessons from the worst of video game movie adaptations, including Double Dragon which is so abominable that Rotten Tomatoes does not even list it. They would also benefit from the precedent that respectable video game movies like Pokémon Detective Pikachu or Sonic the Hedgehog. Among SMBM’s production team, Shigeru Miyamoto serves as co-producer with Chris Meledandri, though I am incredulous concerning the former’s knowledge of video game cinematographic trends. I would conjecture that his contributions included convincing Nintendo to greenlight the film, and to ensure that it maintained a “Nintendo Seal of Quality” standard.

The end result is essentially a ninety-minute cutscene featuring a small sample of Mario characters. And that is really the gist of it: SMBM condenses the totality of the Mario pantheon, including Luigi’s Mansion and Donkey Kong, into an attractive marketing tool for Nintendo’s unusual ambitions, such as the Super Nintendo World theme park. 

I struggle to find things to say about SMBM as a whole. After all, it is Mario; Miyamoto makes sure that it will not veer beyond sterile family fun. I prefer consuming media expressing some sense of exigency; I like for there to be something greater at stake than the hero saving the day. SMBM is tragically innocuous. 

Well, I do have one real critique: while it is a plot point ripped straight from Mario Odyssey, King Koopa Bowser being horny on main for Princess Toadstool Peach is disturbing. I never finished Mario Odyssey (the Mario Galaxy games are the pinnacle of Mario for me; I found the opening of Odyssey too boring to maintain interest), so I had been spared the burden of imagining the idea of interspecies sex in a universe as jejune as the Mushroom Kingdom. Now Bowser does not say that he wants to bang the Princess—he deigns to capture her to coerce her to marry him so they can rule together. Yet…Psst! Hey, kids! Do you know what is supposed to happen after two people get married? Can you pronounce “consummation”?

Indeed, while SMBM does not define Bowser’s objectives in these terms, because Miyamoto ensures that the creative team presents them in a sanitary 1980’s style, those of us who grew up with the original games are adults. HBO has finished The Game of Thrones.  We know (het) villains do not marry princesses just for trophies.

So…gross and double gross because Bowser, especially as depicted in the Smash Bros universe, is my favorite Mario character after Yoshi, and I prefer to not associate him with rape. Oh yeah: Yoshi fans will have to wait until SMBM 2 to experience that character on the big screen. I feel bad for those fans, but I do not think that their omission is as egregious as the lack of Red XIII in the Final Fantasy VII (/rage). 

At any rate, I am now rethinking all the Mario games where the story (lol, the preposterous idea of Mario games with “stories”) involves  Bower abducting the Princess. I can only infer from SMBM that those games were not simple hero-rescues-the-damsel-in-distress where she lives in a dungeon, unmolested because of chivalry or some such, awaiting rescue. Yeah the post-GOT world makes even the implications of that which goes unspoken in PG movies friggin dark!

Luckily, SMBM provides ammunition for combating this headcanon, because Princess Peach is a whole grown woman who can take care of herself. While she is Bower’s love interest, she does not reciprocate advances or suggestions. Donkey Kong teases Mario and Peach about flirting while they merely have a benign conversation about mutual interests, and she does not flinch because she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. 

I say that with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

I for one appreciate this modern, Smash Bros-era version of Princess Peach. While Mario has to evolve from zero to hero in SMBM, Peach was always already the the Baddest B on the block, crushing an obstacle course in a dress befitting of an Azalea Trail Maid, burns rubber on the fan favorite Rainbow Road Mario Kart course, and finally and most importantly, saves herself from Bowser with with some spectacular ice flower power. 

Would I have gone to see SMBM if I did not have kids? Nah. Did I regret seeing it? Nah. Is it a net improvement in the video game movie genre? Yes. Will I expect more from SMBM2? Meh. I doubt Miayamoto will allow the creative team to depart form the themes of the games, so the stakes will be low. After all, Mario is known for innovations in gameplay, not epic stories.

Perhaps “blockbuster” expectations within 90 minutes is why making video game movie adaptations is so difficult, and why Naughty Dog went into the direction of television for The Last of Us.

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