mario bros movie poster

The Truth About the Mario Movie That We Need to Acknowledge

Look, the truth is, I didn’t much care for the new Mario movie. Granted, it’s for a different audience than a forty-year-old cis white software developer. It’s for the kids who think Minions are the shizznit and that the cops are like Paw Patrol. It’ll be on in the background of daycares for years to come with its bright and colorful visuals and catchy sound. But its storytelling is thinner than Kate Moss standing next to Cara Delevingne. Bowser does nothing but sing “peaches” over and over again. The maguffin has less of a purpose than the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Why do the Penguins have it? Why are there Penguins? They matter less than to Mario than the Hat Ghost people in Super Mario Odyssey (fun fact: they’re called Bonneters) Where’s Yoshi? Even the live-action movie got that one right.

But the biggest problem is there’s no real character arc for anybody. Mario doesn’t change. There’s no lesson he has to learn, no fatal flaw he has to overcome. Luigi is a bit cowardly and milder than his brother (like in the games) but he doesn’t have an arc either. He just suddenly comes to life at the end. I hate the casting choices–celebrities not voice actors. I especially hate Seth Rogen’s dumb weed laugh as Donkey Kong. I agree with all the critics–it’s a big dumb commercial, all eye candy and Easter eggs.

I ate my words on the Wonder Woman movie, but I’ll regurgitate them like a cow and eat them again for Mario–its story is unfilmable. The plot elements make no sense. It’s full of mushrooms and dinosaurs and ghosts and sewer pipes and talking turtles who throw hammers and superpowers hiding in blocks that let you shoot fireballs. It works better as a David Lynch fever dream than a kids’ movie.

Even the most recent games have made no attempt at real story, just a framing device for the mechanics. Mario has a water sprayer, so the game is set on an island with toxic paint everywhere. All the levels are gravity-based so now Mario goes intergalactic. Mario takes control of other entities to get different abilities, so now Mario’s hat can possess people.

None of these are high concepts for movies. None of these are character A finds himself in situation B only to discover that C and that he must D. I will say Illuminations did as good a job as anyone could do with the given material. But they went for basic and safe. The movie equivalent of dangling keys in front of a baby. They didn’t try for any concepts adults could get something out of like Turning Red or Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. I knew all this going in. But I still gave my money to it. Why?

I went to see the Mario movie because I want to see more movies based on video games.

We’ve already had plenty, but none of them–NONE of them–have been good. Studio producers are stupid stupid stupid when it comes to making video game movies. They don’t devote any of the proper resources. They think they have a built-in audience so they can half-ass it. The original Super Mario Bros. had the writer of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the set designer of Blade Runner, and the two leads, who are supposed to be ethnically Italian New York-born brothers, a Hispanic actor and a British actor (although kudos on not white-washing the roles). The same with Double Dragon, Street Fighter, House of the Dead, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Doom, and a hundred Resident Evil movies. They take the dregs of movie production to make something with no synergy or idea what a video game is. And then they wonder why they get a 30% audience score.

It’s even to the point where they stop advertising them as video game movies, hoping that the fans know and the audience doesn’t find out. (Ex. Rampage, Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia — now THERE’S an example of white-washing).

The best video game movie has only reached above 60% on RT–Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2. And those had little to do with the Sonic games themselves. Neither takes place in Sonic’s world or uses Sonic’s plotline, but it uses the characters (which admittedly are the strongest part of the Sonic franchise).

But I knew the The Super Mario Bros. Movie was going to be a quality product. In that, I mean someone tried. They put forth the effort to make a visually stunning, nostalgia-laden, basic hero’s journey. It’s light on good story-telling but heavy on good movie-making. And after all, isn’t that video games are about? Good graphics?

There are plenty of movies that fail the critical test, but succeed with the masses–Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Boondock Saints, Maleficent, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean. These are people pleasers. They don’t advance anything about the medium. They don’t reveal great human truths or do anything spectacular in terms of style. But in all of them, you could tell the effort was there.

But critical or audience consensus doesn’t matter. Movie studios are all about box office. People vote with their dollar and I voted with mine. I don’t necessarily want more Mario. What I want is the Metroid movie. I want Zelda the Movie. I want to see God of War, Half-Life, Bioshock, Overwatch, Dishonored on the big screen. They’re cinematic enough as it is. Making the transition shouldn’t be difficult.

That’s why I didn’t wait for it to be on streaming like I would have usually done. I knew what Mario was going in. But I swallowed my inner critic like Mario chomps so many of those mushrooms in the training montage. I probably only see three to five movies in the theater every year, but I see a hell of a lot at home (because I’m introverted and the theater-going experience is degenerating). No producer would make Grand Theft Auto for a streaming service–the investment would be too large not to first-run them in theaters.

So that’s why I took my family to see The Super Mario Bros. Movie in the theater, all four of us. Because I want movie studios to know that I will see a movie based on a video game. That I want to see more. But only if the effort is there.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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