Super Mario Bros. Movie (What do we Want?)
Contributed by DJMMT
I watched The Last of Us (TLoU) show in its entirety, and my conclusion is that it’s possibly the best live action adaptation of a game we’ve ever gotten. Let me clarify what I mean by that. I am not saying that TLoU is the best live action show or movie based on a video game ever made. Because that would require the game it’s based on to be the best game that has ever been adapted, and that’s simply not the case. Personally, I have always felt that TLoU was an overrated game. Not just the gameplay, which I didn’t love, but also the story. The character development is great. I will not say that it’s the best character development a game has ever offered, but it’s very good. And this absolutely comes out in the show as well. But in general, the plot of The Last of Us is pretty meh in my opinion. And I think many people can agree with that upon closer analysis.
Neil Druckmann himself, as arrogant as he is about his writing, will happily admit that he tells “simple stories.” There’s nothing particularly special or original about TLoU plot wise. It’s all in the characters. Which is fine. But I won’t say that it should be applauded as the best game ever written, or even the best game story ever adapted. When I say I think TLoU show is possibly the best game adaptation we’ve ever gotten, what I mean is that this show was truer to the game it was based on and had the budget to adequately mirror the game to a degree of polish that we simply haven’t seen before.
This month, we got the final Super Mario Bros. movie trailer, and it absolutely blew my mind. I’ve been playing Mario games since he was called Jumpman. I’ve beaten Donkey Kong (1981) and Donkey Kong Jr. (1982). Younger gamers probably don’t know that before Bowser, Mario fought against DK. And in Donkey Kong Jr., Jumpman (Mario) is actually the villain. Since then, I’ve played countless Mario and Mario adjacent games. What shocked me most about this latest trailer was that DK used a fire flower. In all these years, it has never once dawned on me that other characters in the world, outside of Luigi, can and were using those special Mario items. Looking back now, it all seems obvious. Koopatroopas don’t have wings, but Koopa Paratroopas do. I always assumed Koopa Paratroopas were a special breed of Koopatroopa. But who’s to say that they aren’t just Koopatroopas that got the Wing Cap? Fire Piranha Plant might be a special breed of Piranha Plant. But it could also just be a Piranha Plant that got a Fire Flower. There is no reason in the franchise’s canon to assume that enemies can’t use items. I just made that assumption because I had no reason to question it until now. And that’s awesome. It’s really cool to see the creators of a series taking part in this project and expanding on the canon in ways that make sense without breaking the established canon. That’s the kind of never-before-seen content I can get behind in adaptations. But I have to ask what do I/we actually want from a Mario movie?
My issue with all the trailers for this movie is that they give up too much. If you are well versed in the Mario franchise, and I’m talking about the entire franchise including games like Mario Kart, and you watch those trailers, there is so much stuff packed into them. There are hour-long YouTube videos of people just deconstructing all the references in the trailers, and for good reason. This movie is only 92 minutes long, which is perfect for a children’s movie. But that’s going to be a lightning fast 92 minutes if they actually address even a fraction of all the stuff they’ve shown in the trailers. And that’s assuming there’s not stuff we haven’t already seen in the trailer. Which would be insane, because you never give everything away in the trailers. That means that this is a massive movie. It feels like they’re literally trying to cram 40 years of Mario history into a single movie. To which I’d ask, why?
We don’t know if this is meant to be the first movie in a universe of films or a one off as Shigeru Miyamoto prepares for retirement, as he’s 70 years old. For all we know, it could be neither or both at the same time. We also know that if it’s super successful, plans could change from the latter to the former. We simply don’t have all the information, and probably never will. But what we do know is that Nintendo could make multiple Mario movies if they wanted to. We also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this movie, and other movies in an Illumination shared Mario movie universe, will make money. This movie is going to make so much money. And sequels would/will make so much money as well. So unless they really have no plans to make a sequel, I really don’t see why they felt the need to cram this much history into one movie.
Note, I don’t think the movie is going to be bad. Not at all! The trailers have done nothing but impress me. But they are super overloaded. Which means either everything is being shared prematurely, or there’s way more stuff in what is already a packed movie. And that brings me to my next question. What exactly do we actually want from an animated Mario movie? Do we want something cheesy that’s filled with cameos and has no real substance. Do we want a serious plot that’s genuinely great and requires people to pay attention to fully understand what’s going on? Do we want a recreation of the games, or a specific game in the franchise? Do we want a completely non-canon deviation that’s just fun for the sake of being fun and in no way resembles a Mario game plot? I’m not even really sure what I want? Because Mario games were never really about the story.
Mario games definitely have plots. Even Mario Golf: Super Rush (2021) has a plot. They’re just not usually plots that are particularly epic or consequential. Actually, with the exception of the Paper Mario series, some of the most epic Mario plot writing can be found in the Mario + Rabbids series from Ubisoft. Mario stories are literally just hero saves the princess from a dragon. That’s it. Yes, we’ve gotten a little nuance in some of the games over the years; but at the end of the day Bowser kidnaps Peach, Mario seeks out Bowser, Mario defeats Bowser, Mario frees Peach, Peach kisses Mario on the cheek, and then they do it all again in the next game. That’s actually one of my favorite things about Super Mario Odyssey. The game follows that same plot structure, but at the end Peach is just not having it from either Bowser or Mario, so she just walks off and both are left depressed. It’s a hilarious spin on a plot we’ve seen play out countless times. And that’s fine for the Mario franchise, because we actually are playing these games for the gameplay first and the story second. If you read my blog regularly, then you know I prioritize story in my games, but Mario has always been an exception to that. I just like playing Mario games. I have since I was a child, before mainstream games even really had stories.
I think the dynamic between players and Mario games when it comes to plot works to the movie’s advantage. Because we don’t have high expectations for the writing. It could be amazing, or it could be terrible. In either case, as long as it looks cool and true to Mario form visually, most gamers probably won’t complain . . . much. Honestly, I don’t even know what I want from this movie. Like if you told me God of War movie, I know exactly what I want. And when they failed to deliver it, I’d complain about it. If you told me Mass Effect movie, I’d know what I want. And they would fail to deliver it, and I’d absolutely complain about it. But I can’t really even put my expectations for a Mario movie into words. There are certainly things I would have expected. Like Charles Martinet as the voice of Mario. Or Peach getting kidnapped by Bowser. But in general I really just expect Mario to fight Bowser by the end and for there to be some sort of fireworks show to celebrate. Most of my expectations are more visual and action focused rather than plot contingent. And the trailers have basically confirmed that those expectations will be met.
In any case, I’m really excited to watch this movie, and I’m very confident that it will be a fun time. However, I have to be honest and say that I’m not being nearly as brutal in my expectations for this movie when comparing my responses to other game adaptations. And that’s probably why Nintendo is as successful as they are. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.