I have been curious to watch Super Mario Bros. for a very long time, pretty much ever since I first learned of its existence. It was the first attempt Hollywood […]
I have been curious to watch Super Mario Bros. for a very long time, pretty much ever since I first learned of its existence. It was the first attempt Hollywood had made to giving a video game the movie treatment and it lay the blueprint for how most of these efforts would be received. The movie failed both critically and financially, its reputation as a terrible movie would live on for decades to come. Yet, SMB does have its fans. In fact as time goes by it seems like there is a growing voice defending this movie from its detractors. This is the kind of film I love watching – a film that is both reviled and considered a cult classic from two different sides. I love finding out which side I’m going to end up on so let’s a go and find out.
Super Mario Bros is a fairly loose adaptation of the Mario universe. Here, Mario and Luigi are Brooklyn-based struggling plumbers. Mario, played by Bob Hoskins, is the much older brother and thus assumes the role of the wiser mentor to Luigi played by John Leguizamo. Luigi is more optimistic and naive than his brother but these traits are generally what gets him through any situation. They meet Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who is digging up dinosaur bones when she is threatened by an evil corporate construction company owner – if you’ve seen plenty of family movies from the 90s there was one of these in every two films. This is a fact, I’ve done the research, trust me. Luigi falls for Daisy but after a double date including Mario and his girlfriend, she is kidnapped and taken to a parallel universe that was created when a meteorite hit Brooklyn. In this universe dinosaurs evolved into intelligent almost human-like creatures. This universe is led by ‘President’ Koopa (Dennis Hopper), an evil dictator who is obsessed with finding Daisy and her piece of meteorite that she wears around her neck. With that he can merge the universes together and rule them both. Mario and Luigi find their way into this parallel New York to save Daisy and ultimately, the world.
That is the basic plot and while I won’t go on to spoil any of it, the film offers little surprises about how it goes on. Sometimes characters will just change their motive with little development – Spike and Iggy going from being tasked with killing Mario and Luigi to then bargaining with them then fully supporting the downfall of Koopa all within just a few scenes of each other with very little explanation as to why. However, then there is the case of Fiona Shaw’s character whose plot-points are genuinely well foreshadowed. There are glimpses of a good movie but there are just as many glimpses of a movie that had a hard time being created.
The cast is perhaps too good for a movie like this, especially Bob Hoskins who perhaps deserved better but he really gave it his all to make Mario work and I can’t fault him for that. Dennis Hopper was at the weird part of his career where he just constantly kept showing up as villains in big budget movies that were not really good but I still enjoyed his performance. Even Luigi and Daisy are fine even though they both come across dumber than rocks in the first act of the movie. However, I really got into the dynamic between Mario and Luigi – they really felt like brothers with a huge age gap. They constantly bicker like siblings but are super proud of each other, it’s nice.
The film even looks pretty good – a lot of the effects are very dated but that is going to happen when the film is 26 years old. I am only a year older than this film and I look dated. The designs for the Goombas are hilarious, the Yoshi is super adorable and the parallel New York is loaded with references to the games. It is definitely not as colourful as I would expect from a movie based on the Mario games, the city is very dystopian – imagine Mad Max meets Blade Runner almost. SMB tries to be a bit darker but it also has very cartoony moments, there is even a scene where a car gets suspended by a sticky substance complete with a boing noise. Yet, characters are constantly threatening to kill each other and the whole look of the film suggests that it is trying so hard not to be a kids film. Ultimately I do feel this tug-of-war over what tone the movie should take is part of the reason why the film Bob-omb’d when it came out.
Even the score seems at odd with itself, a lot of scenes involving the Mario Bros has the same piece playing over it over multiple scenes and it is very jaunty. It would not be out of place in most family films of the era. Yet this song plays over Mario and Luigi being shot at with flamethrowers in a darkly lit, neon hellscape that is Dino-New York City (I don’t believe the city is ever named in the film but if it was, please correct me).
So, I have put forward my criticisms and explained some things that I liked. However, I must now say with a heavy heart that I…..enjoyed this movie. Quite a bit, actually.
Yeah, it has some glaring issues that I think a smoother production would have avoided and it doesn’t really know what it wants to be but Super Mario Bros. is still an entertaining movie. The cast give as much as they can to make it work, I like the design of the city and the plot is nothing to write home about but it does enough to keep you interested even though it offers little surprises. There was even some funny bits that I genuinely laughed at and the number one sign that this film kinda ruled? I didn’t need to pause it once. When I get bored of a film I’ll usually pause it and grab a cup of tea or a small snack or just anything to give me a five minute break from the monotony. None of that with Super Mario Bros. That’s a real Stu stamp of approval.
Is Super Mario Bros. a good movie? I hesitate to go that far but I really enjoyed what I watched, even with the obvious issues. I can see why people who watched this as a kid are happily defending this film – this was my first time watching and I would happily sit through it again. In a few years. Maybe after some drinks.
Next up: Double Dragon, a game franchise I know little about and a film I know even less. I am excited?