What The Film?! is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the plot holes Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
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I’m going to be honest with you, when I think Bob Hoskins, I think Mario. I know I should probably think Charles Martinet as Mario, considering he’s voiced him in every single Mario game since 1994, but Bob Hoskins kind of owns it. I know I should be thinking Mona Lisa, or Hook, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or even Spiceworld, but Bob Hoskins is kind of cemented into my head as Mario in the same way that John Leguizamo makes me think of Luigi. It can’t be undone. Ever.
I’m not sure why that connection is so strong. I mean when I think Dennis Hopper, I think of Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, True Romance, Speed, and even Land of the Dead (which also has Leguizamo in it, oddly enough) before I think of him playing Bowser in Super Mario Brothers. Hell, I’ve only seen this movie once when I was six or seven on VHS and my mom turned it off part way through because it scared me.
I’ve never hid my gaming habits from this column; in fact, it’s a self made rule that I make a video game reference, a Limp Bizkit reference, or a Nicolas Cage reference every week. Hell, the What The Film!? font on the featured image is the Metal Gear Solid font.
After several weeks of putting hours and hours into New Super Marios Bros.U, as well as writing about Far Cry last week, it dawned on me that I have never seen this movie in its entirety. It’s the first live action movie adaptation of a video game and it’s known for being awful, and I love both of those things.
There’s a reason why Mario was the first video game character to get his own movie; he’s the definitive video gaming mascot, not just covering Nintendo, he represents the entire spectrum of gaming. He’s more recognized around the world than Mickey Mouse, which is crazy. Nintendo was approached during the late 80s about the possibility of an adaptation, which Nintendo was receptive to because it is an exciting offer. Nintendo executives probably hadn’t seen many adaptations from the time, where source material was horribly butchered for the sake of making a movie more Hollywood like. Tim Burton’s Batman had Batman kill people and had Prince do the soundtrack, casting Dolph Lungren as The Punisher, Superman at one point fixed a hole in The Great Wall of China by looking at it, and also Howard The Duck tried to walk the line between gross-out-comedy and family-fun and obviously failed at it.
Super Mario Bros deviates heavily from the source material, but I won’t break down what they did wrong with the Mario mythos, because everyone does that. I’m going to critique this as its own stand alone movie, as if it didn’t exist as a video game first.
The movie begins with an explanation that the meteor that supposedly killed all the dinosaurs actually created a parallel universe where dinosaurs didn’t die and evolved into what are essentially humans. We then cut to current day New York, where there has been a string of women being abducted. After a bad plumbing job, Mario and Luigi end up meeting Daisy at a payphone, where Luigi tries to charm her by being as horrifically creepy as possible. When offered a ride, Daisy literally looks over and sees a news paper with a large headline about the missing women, and agrees that it’s safer for her to take a ride with these strange men than walk alone.
At the same time, Daisy is being hunted by two henchmen who are clearly behind the kidnappings. Iggy and Spike are, more or less, retarded versions of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever, sharing the same speech patterns and banter.
After Spike and Iggy successfully capture Daisy, Mario and Luigi follow them through a portal that looks suspiciously like a screen saver I had back in 1996 into the dinosaur world that looks more Blade Runner than Mushroom Kingdom. There’s a lot of dumb comic relief in this juxtaposition including a guy who rides a bicycle into a railing for absolutely no reason. He doesn’t get distracted and hit the railing, he literally runs into it head on for no reason at all.
Mario, Luigi, and Toad (who is a singer/songwriter for some reason) get arrested and brought to a “de-evolution” room, where Toad is turned into a Goomba (a dimwitted person with a tiny dinosaur head who is also 2-3 feet taller than Toad was originally). Just as Mario and Luigi are about to be de-evolved, some weird brown slime that appeared out of the blue (due to what was most likely a cut scene) causes the evil Koopa to fall into the de-evolution machine himself (which causes absolutely no difference in character or appearance).
Mario and Luigi escape, being chased by Iggy and Spike, who have been put into the de-evolution machine themselves, except in this case they have been “evolved”, causing them to have much more intelligent. You’d think this would make them a more formidable opponent, but the only difference is a larger vocabulary as they remain just as incompetent as they were before. They are promptly trapped by Mario and Luigi, where the two inform the brothers that Koopa’s plan is to reunite the dinosaur world and the human world where humans would be wiped out or enslaved by their dinosaur people rulers. The only thing they need is a piece of the meteor that Daisy wears on a necklace around her neck (which was lost). Mario and Luigi hear the entire plan about world domination and promise to get Koopa the rock if he lets Daisy go. They literally agree to damn the entire human civilization in exchange for a girl that they had met that morning.
After several weird, quirky, and sometimes entertaining set pieces, Koopa ends up merging the two worlds temporarily, where he immediately uses a de-evolution gun on a person in a crowd, turning him into a chimp. At least fifty people see these massive dinosaur people materialize out of nowhere and they promptly turn a man into a chimpanzee. Everyone laughs at this as if it wasn’t the scariest God damned thing they’ve ever seen.
The movie ends with Mario and Luigi killing Koopa, which more-or-less resurrects the real ruler of this weird Blade Runner land (oddly enough played by Lance Henriksen, where he shows up for maybe four seconds and recites the line “I’m back.”). Mario and Luigi return back to the human world, where they’ve become heroes for stopping something that almost no one knew about. Daisy chooses to stay in the Dinosaur world, abandoning everything she has ever known to get to know a man that Koopa turned into a weird fungus that she was told is her real father. This doesn’t last long, as she shows up on Mario and Luigi’s doorstep to request their help in an attempt to leave it open for a sequel.
What does Daisy need their help with? Where could a sequel go? They’ve killed Koopa and Mario doesn’t exactly have a Rogue’s Gallery, he basically has Bowser/King Koopa. There isn’t a lot of places a sequel could go. In the games, Mario not only doesn’t kill Bowser, he invites him go-karting, tennis games, even to his parties.
Ignoring that, how does the movie stand up? Honestly, if you took away the Mario license and put it out there as a dumb kid adventure movie, it isn’t as bad as you’d think. I mean, it’s still a very dumb kid’s movie, but the special effects (sometimes) stand up and the puppet they built for Yoshi is actually pretty incredible. Dennis Hopper dedicates himself to the role in an insane Nicolas Cage type way. He doesn’t phone it in at all and he alone is worth watching the movie for. I understand that Bob Hoskins hated every minute, but to be truly forgiving, it’s really really hard to make a two hour long movie out of “pixelated man walks right and jumps”.