I may have mentioned this somewhere before, but I truly believe there’s a special breed of blockbuster that’s considered so bad, that I reckon they could be rehabilitated for the good of mankind. One such example is the infamous Batman & Robin, a movie that essentially murdered the comic book movie until Blade tagged in to turn things around; but causing just as much damage is 1993’s Super Mario Bros., a legendary stinker that was hated so much it nearly smothered the Video Game Adaptation in its crib first time out.
So what on earth can we learn from a movie that so relentlessly and obnoxiously 90’s it makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II look like a slow burn thriller crafted by Orson Welles; a film whose writers and directors (yup, there were two) had such little knowledge about how to adapt something so strange it stands as one of the most random experiences of the decade. What can we learn – except that when you deal with plumbers, expect shit? Everything, that’s what.
Scraping through life with Brooklyn accents thicker than a clogged pipe and a can-do attitude, family plumbers the Mario Brothers try in vain to keep their struggling business afloat. Noticably older brother (by about a good 30 years by the look of it) Mario is the weathered professional while nice but dim brother Luigi wants more from life and rambles on about UFO’s and other dimensions much to his sibling’s chagrin. However, one day they run into vibrant NYU student Daisy who’s archeological dig is being threatened by a rival plumbing firm, but Daisy’s mysterious past is about to catch up with her. You see, in a dimension next door to us lives a ravaged version of New York where the dominant life are humans evolved from not monkeys, but dinosaurs and under the chaotic rule of germophobic Trumpian megalomaniac President Koopa, resources are painfully thin. Koopa’s nefarious plan thus far has been to send his idiotic cousins Izzy and Spike to our world to kidnap Daisy and obtain a meteorite fragment that, if returned to the greater mass, will merge the worlds into one making it easier to conquer – however, as I just stated, his agents are as dull as a blown lightbulb and the recent rash of missing women are the direct result of all their botched attempts. However, they’ve got it right this time and as they carry Daisy over to “Dinohatten”, Mario and Luigi give chase only to find themselves in a dystopian metropolis, up against a world full of weird, random references to the much loved video game that seem included because no one knows what they mean.
Can Mario and Luigi navigate this insane dimension, reduce Daisy and bring order to Dinohatten once and for all? Prepare to plumb the depths.
So, before we get our hands dirty, I’m gonna go a little controversial on y’all for a minute… Super Mario Bros. isn’t necessarily an awful movie per say (although I’d stop way short of actually calling it good), but it is an awful Super Mario Bros. movie. My facts? After viewing for the first time since nearly thirty years ago (!) I found this incredibly dopey film, with the benefit of a three decade long buffer, to be actually quite fast paced and mindlessly fun in an obnoxious, loud, wannabe edgy kind of way. Moments of comedy actually made me laugh out loud (the dancing Goombas if you must know), the practical effects hold up pretty well (Yoshi’s pretty impressive) and we get a juicy slice of ham in the form of a pre-Speed villain turn from Dennis Hopper. What I’m trying to say is that if you were a ten year old back in 1993, you may have been confused as fuck, but you would have had fun.
However, what makes watching Super Mario Bros. really pays of these days are two factors, 1) the awful, bottomless randomness of the whole thing and 2) how much Hollywood really had no idea how to adapt a video game to film in the early 90’s. It’s actually quite fascinating how someone would look at a game like Mario and – thanks to Nintendo giving them free rein – managed to turn out a sci-fi comedy that feels like someone gassed Blade Runner with a near-fatal dose of Nitrous Oxide. Instead of embracing the cartoony colours of the fantasy worlds of the game, the movie opts to go dark and subversive, showing us a world of limited resources and a jaded population that feels weirdly prescient (it even creepily features the Twin Towers get swapped out for a wrecked version at one point) and whenever anything from the game actually turn up, it turns out to be laughably bad. Actual Nintendo light guns are used as a devolution ray, Toad isn’t a cute mushroom person but a spiral haired, politics spewing busker, the Goombas are pin-headed lizard people, Mario uses power boots to jump high – its amazingly clumsy, although I did really like the use of the Bob-OMB, a tiny, wind up explosive that sends everyone into a panicked frenzy.
Even when the movie isn’t directly referencing the games in the patronising and cringe inducing way a parent would while trying to get through to their kids, it’s still pretty fucking weird – behold the sight of Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw shiving baby dinosaur Yoshi in the side as it tries to eat her foot or Samantha Mathis emotionally trying to connect with a father who’s been devolved into a giant pile of fungal snot. But none of these match the panicked and haunted look in Bob Hoskins’ eyes as it slowly dawns on him exactly how lucky he got with Who Framed Roger Rabbit and that that luck has now just run out – it connects nicely to a slightly different look in Dennis Hopper’s eye as you realise he probably has no idea what is going on whatsoever. John Leguizamo on the other hand just looks happy to be there…
Simply put, Super Mario Bros. is what happens when a filmmaker just doesn’t have an actual understanding of what they’re trying to adapt and there’s literally dozens of examples like this scattered all across the history of wonky movies thanks to a lack of knowledge or just a lack of money. Masters Of The Universe, Street Fighter, Dragonball: Evolution, Snake Eyes, Fantastic Four… they all exist because someone, somewhere on their respective journey’s to the screen simply didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. As it stands, Super Mario Bros. is a prime example of this and therefore should be put in some sort of hall of fame so anyone wanting to make a video game movie can learn from it and spare us a similar fate. It seems to finally be working as fellow platformer Sonic The Hedgehog had a movie come out a few years ago that was actually pretty good with a sequel on the way so who knows, maybe this thirty year run of shoddy video game adaptations is finally at an end?
Shite? Oh certainly, but a surprisingly fun kind of shite, Mario and Luigi’s notorious first cinematic outing in live action may have a legendary bad rap, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be helpful.
Call it an… extra life.