Of all the movies that I watched religiously during my childhood, the Super Mario Bros. movie always stood out a bit. It was dark, had a very distinct look and something about it just didn’t feel right. Even back then, I never considered it to be a Super Mario movie, but more of a science-fiction movie that took some inspiration from the games but tried to do its own thing. I always wondered how it would hold up these days, especially considering Nintendo wants to do its own movies now, so I went back to watch it in order to find out.
The story seems simple enough at first: When a meteor struck the earth millions of years ago, it didn’t only extinguish the dinosaurs, but also created a parallel universe where that species could survive. They somehow evolved into humans (don’t question it!) and the movie starts off with Daisy’s mother bringing her into our world, in order to escape the dictatorship that King Koopa (Dennis Hopper) has established in the dinosaur universe. Years later, Daisy is an archaeologist who is digging up dinosaur bones close to the one place where crossing from dimension into the other is still possible. She has a stone that could reunite the two dimensions, which for some reason Koopa only then finds out about and decides to get it in order to conquer the world. So, she gets kidnapped and since Luigi has fallen in love with Daisy, he and Mario have to go over to the other dimension in order to rescue her.
Now, if this already sounds a bit messy in terms of storytelling, chances are you’re going to dislike the movie. The plot is overly and needlessly complicated, even though it’s obvious how easy it should be to folow. Dennis Hopper even explains it several times, in case you forgot what the movie is about. But there are many weird choices, that don’t make too much sense if you think about it. Like, why are they building a huge city in the desert, when so few resources are around? How did they evolve to reach that level of technology? Why are so many sparks flying around when they are driving a car? What practical use have those jump-boots? Why won’t Mario jump? Why is the movie so focused on them being plumbers? Why does Koopa send two totally incapable goons if he has many other capable people around him? Why doesn’t he evolve them in the first place? The entire universe and plot that are being set up here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Maybe I’m thinking too much about this. Let’s focus on some visuals: I enjoy the overall look of the movie; I especially dig the practical sets and the cyberpunk flair of the city. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort went into this and I can appreciate it. Some of the effects are great too, especially Yoshi looks great. On the other hand, you have the Goombas and the Evolver/Devolver special effects, which look really dated by now. The CGI in general looks pretty horrible.
What about the actors? Well, I enjoy Bob Hoskins as Mario and Dennis Hopper as King Koopa, thought they are both quite cheesy, but somehow, it works. Especially Hoskins makes Mario a very likeable character. I can’t say too much about the performances, since the script doesn’t give them much to work with. John Leguizamo tries his best to come across as likeable and that works well enough. Samantha Mathis who plays Daisy is a nice fit for the role, but unfortunately, she doesn’t get a lot of interesting things to do, even though the plot gives her some more pro-active moments.
One of the elements that really feel off, even nowadays, is the tone. Sometimes, the movie tries to aim for a young audience, with silly and goofy jokes. The next moment they are in a disco where real-life strippers are dancing in revealing outfits. Maybe that’s what felt off back when I was young? It makes for a very confusing movie, even without the weird plot that is already going on. And confusion is still the main feeling when watching this movie, since many scenes don’t make a whole lot of sense in the plot and the overall arc just doesn’t work. It also relies heavily on Deus Ex Machina moments, which really undermine the whole structure. There’s no real tension going on and the movie has no depth, neither in terms of story, nor when it comes to any of the characters. Maybe that’s why the movie is so hated and flopped: Despite all the spectacle going on, the movie has nothing to offer. Sure, there are elements of the games present, but most of them feel shallow. Their impact on the actual story is minimal and you can literally feel how the many rewrites of the script tore this movie apart.
Despite all this the Super Mario Bros. movie isn’t as bad as many make it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a good movie, not by a long shot. The script and the plot are way too bad for it to be. But somehow, the movie works in places where you don’t expect it to. The sets, some performances and some special effects really come together as something memorable.
I give this movie a 3/10. Yes, it’s bad, but it has its redeeming moments.