Adapting video games into films is a risky business. For starters, the film will predominantly be made for the niche crowd that has played (or at least know of) the game and understand its lore. From a trade perspective, studios usually pay a fortune to get the rights for the adaptation, and what they’re left with to make a film is a fraction of what they started with. If the company that owns the IP decides to be a part of the film, next comes the expectations from the fans that have to be matched and at the same time, it should also be appealing enough to attract a fresh audience.
Right from not focusing on the parts that made the games famous and not choosing the right medium (The Witcherand The Last of Usproved that some of them make for compelling series), problems are aplenty for game adaptations. Incidentally, the game that started the film adaptation frenzy 30 years ago with Super Mario Bros., is back with The Super Mario Bros. Movie now. But despite being a lovely ode to the legendary gaming franchise, it still flounders thanks to problems unique to this genre.
The lack of an intriguing storyline happens to be the biggest problem with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Every crucial scene the film has reminds you of another famous title. After brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) started a plumbing business in Brooklyn and faking an Italian accent (more on this later) to make a retro commercial, a plumbing disaster in the city feels like the best opportunity to showcase their talents. When that fiasco Narnia-slaps them into another world filled with several kingdoms, and splits them up to survive and save themselves, Mario befriends Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) with whom he has to take down the evil conqueror, Bowser (Jack Black).
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (English)
Despite the been-there-seen-that plot, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a treat for the fans of the franchise. Unlike the 1993 film, the new one ticks a lot of the right boxes. Our favourite plumber isn’t going, “It’s a me, Mario” at us, but thankfully, the American accent isn’t a dealbreaker either. The film, first and foremost, gets the tone right; from the bustling streets of Brooklyn to the colourful fungi-filled Mushroom Kingdom, the splashy treatment really pays off. Next comes the imperative step of incorporating the game’s elements into the film and considering that the gaming franchise has spawned over 200 games of various genres, picking the best ones would’ve been a tough one. But directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, who share a wealth of animation experience between them, lace the film with ample references that are enough to send the fans into a frenzy. There are sequences that pay homage to the world of 2D gaming that was redefined by the 1985 game Super Mario Bros. which most of us would associate the franchise with. They’ve also incorporated the equally famous Mario Kart games, because who wouldn’t love seeing Mario, Princess Peach, Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) ride go-karts on a rainbow?
Speaking about the princess, there’s even a subtle mention of the famous yet infuriating, “Our princess is in another castle” line. Meanwhile, Princess Peach has come a long way since her game days. She’s no more a damsel in distress, but a fierce warrior who, at a point in the film, actually trains Mario. There are also the power-ups such as the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, Starman, and minions trying to defeat our overalls-wearing hero. And boy, we get the whole team of baddies, including Koopa Troopas, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills and Bloopers.
The post-credit scene also introduces one of the franchise’s favourite characters to the film world, and the music scores are infused with the original tracks by Koji Kondo. My favourite bit of trivia though is what happened behind the scenes; Charles Martinet, who voices Mario and Luigi in the Mario games, also voice-stars as the brothers’ father in the film and makes up for the lack of Italian accent we love from this franchise.
But these good parts are strictly for fans who understand the references and Easter eggs; what’s left for the rest is a rather insipid story. Despite sporting a dream cast, the voice work (apart from that of Black and Key) is a complete letdown, adding no flavour to the film. We’ve gotten used to brilliant stories written for toy films like the Lego Movies and we’re expecting the same from the upcoming Barbie, and this is why it’s bothersome to see the plot for a much-beloved franchise being extremely predictable. It leaves you wishing that the team which meticulously placed some brilliant callbacks would have spent a little more effort coming up with an intriguing story.
Still, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is undoubtedly a milestone when it comes to game adaptations. Unlike ones like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, Silent Hill: Revelation, Street Fighter and Assassin’s Creed, the Mario film understands what made the franchise a worldwide success and plays to its strengths that are only heightened with brilliant visuals. But unlike the Sonic the Hedgehog movies and Pokémon Detective Pikachu, it doesn’t tell a tale that is intriguing enough to hold our attention. While the film is fan service at its best, the rest of the audience might feel like the bricks in the game Mario punches to nab gold coins from. Only if cheat codes can work in films too!
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is currently running in theatres