Super Mario Bros. is one of the most important video games ever released. Not only was it well-received by critics and players upon its release, but it was also one of the key games in helping the industry recover after the 1983 video game crash. Of course, it has since gone on to spawn a mountain of sequels, merchandise, and other media.
So, you might be wondering: “cub, why are you reviewing this game?” Well, I’m not. I’m instead going to be reviewing the 1993 film Super Mario Bros. It’s a very misunderstood film, with people often citing it as one of the worse of all-time.
I mean yeah, it is a pretty bad adaptation of the video game. Bowser is some dictator with funky blonde hair, the Goombas are…. I don’t even know what those are supposed to be, and Luigi is some socially awkward young adult trying to flirt with Princess Daisy (although that at least I can picture). Then there’s Yoshi. You know that Netflix adaptation meme? Well, that’s pretty much what they did here.
So yeah, it’s a pretty bad adaptation of the video game. But what if you look at it and completely ignore the fact that this is supposed to be a video game adaptation? Drop the “Super Mario Bros.” from the title and what you are actually left with is… still a bad movie, but not outright terrible.
For one, it easily has some of the best set design (maybe THE best) I have ever seen in a video game movie. And I know that bar is kinda low, but it’s pretty good even amongst regular movies released in that same era. Not having seen the film until a few days ago and never looking at any clips for it, I was really surprised when the movie started in New York and then did a complete 180 and throws you into the Mario version of it.
It’s called Dinohatten and it has all sorts of different people walking about and sketchy stuff going on everywhere. In fact, it really gave me that cyberpunk, dystopian kinda vibe – like, the complete opposite of the usual vibrant and cheerful atmosphere of any Mario video game released ever. And this was after they made changes to the script to make it more family friendly. The original was supposed to be even darker until Disney bought the distribution rights for the film. Leaves me wondering just how different it would have turned out if that had never happened. Regardless though, the set design and visual effects are easily where most of the budget went and it ended up being my favorite thing about the film.
Everything else in the movie is only downhill from there. Like, the entire plot is incredibly cheesy. They took the Mario theme and somehow spun it into this story about the dinosaurs being wiped out and evolving into Koopas in another dimension. Bowser rules this dimension and is hunting for a fragment from the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs in order to merge his dimension back with the human one. Of course, this fragment just happens to be in the hands of Princess Daisy, who just so happens to be a university student studying fossils underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, which just so happens to be the same site of an inter-dimensional portal linking the two dimensions.
It’s the perfect setup for an 80s or 90s B-movie and the writing reflects that, it just so happens that this movie has an actual budget behind it. Still, it has the stupid one-liners, the characters that are introduced just to serve their one purpose, and the questionable acting too. The actor for Mario, Bob Hoskins, actually did a great job, but then you got Luigi, Daisy, and pretty much the rest of the cast on top of that. Luigi got the worst of it, having to do these really forced and awkward flirting scenes with Daisy – the kind that had me wanting to look away from the screen because it hurt to watch. And no, this was not the “charming” kind of cringe either, this was just bad acting paired with poor directing.
The movie also has a bit of an issue with its tone. As I mentioned previously, it was obvious that this was supposed to be not as family friendly as it actually is – evident by the set design. So you end up with some scenes that are just straight-up comedy placed in-between these more serious scenes and it can never quite find the right balance there. It just makes the movie feel a bit off in a way, like it was trying too hard to be a Mario movie when it should have been more concerned with being a good movie. This became more of an issue as it went on and I’d be lying if I said the last like forty minutes weren’t a bit of a chore to watch.
Super Mario Bros. has the basis for a decent movie, but is too held back by the Mario theme to make it work. The B-grade writing, cheesy acting, and frequent tonal shifts are just a few of its problems, even if it does have some top-tier set design and visual effects. Given that changes were made during production, I’m left wondering what kind of movie we would have had had the original vision been left intact. Regardless, while I don’t think the film is terrible, it’s definitely not good and is better suited as a meme.
Quote: Super Mario Bros. has the basis for a decent movie, but is too held back by the Mario theme to make it work. The B-grade writing, cheesy acting, and tonal shifts are just a few of its problems.