Monday, April 17, 2023

Nintendo Watch: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

I officially entered a new phase of life on Saturday when I went to see The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) with a cohort of second graders in support of my nephew's birthday.  I'm now an uncle who goes to movies he didn't select.  It's a good thing.

I am not anti video games, but I can describe my relationship to gaming as "apathetic".   The how's and why's of this phenomenon are uninteresting and best served in a dedicated blog post.  But even when we got our first Nintendo Entertainment System, I didn't have any Mario-related games.  I was spending my money on comics and tapes at the time.  Aside from a brief flirtation with a Wii and Mario Kart, never got into it.

That said, I recognize that Mario is essentially Mickey Mouse to a couple of generations.  I'm incredibly bad at predicting what will stick and what's a fad, and thought a plumber fighting turtles was just another thing that would come and go, like Ikari Warriors.  I'm still stunned anyone cares about Pokemon in this year of our Lord, 2023.  But the companies have gotten very good at punching the buttons that work well for children, year after year, as well as opening the gates for nostalgic teens and adults.  I'm pretty sure we already had a gritty Power Rangers reboot.

Back in the 1990's, I was offered the opportunity to see the Super Mario Bros. movie starring the late, great Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.  Despite the fact I'd go see *anything* during this window, I took a pass.  All I remember is Steanso returning and saying "you dodged a bullet".  

A cynic looking to parrot the cultural complaints about He-Man in the 1980's will look at the new movie and say that this film is a toy commercial for the games and products of Nintendo.  That's only partially true.  Look, this movie is not something I would have seen if not for participation in family activities, but I get that for a lot of people, this is the first time the world of Mario has been fully realized in modern, cinematic terms, and without a whiff of that old hobgoblin of film-adaptations, a reimagining.  It's... Mario.  And Luigi.  And Princess Peach.  It's a celebration of Mario and Nintendo, and that's okay.  

It's 90 minutes-ish of telling a very Nintendo story about Mario doing all the shit he does in the games and defeating the bad-guy to save the not-in-that-much-need-of-saving Princess Peach.  

You know what my favorite part was?  There's no real learning or character growth.  There's no long stretches where characters talk about who they are and what they care about and you hear kids shifting and talking to their parents.  A scene or two happens, but only in dual-beat short scenes meant to pace the movie a tad.  It doesn't drive the plot.  Mario is not here to teach anyone life lessons, he's here to punch things and hop around.  This is literally a video game movie, and while modern video games can do complex storytelling for adults, that's not really Mario's niche to explore the workings of the human heart and psyche anymore than it's GI Joe's niche to explore the military industrial complex.  Kids don't give a shit about that, and neither do most young adults.  They came to see him put on a cat suit and drive the fuck out of Rainbow Road.

Speaking of, the movie is full of in-jokes, references, etc... as you'd expect.  YouTube will be littered with 20 Nintendo Easter-Eggs You Missed! videos for months to come.

Yeah, there's a bunch of big-name talent on the movie as voice actors, and they manage to dodge the goofy "It's a-me!  Mario!" shit without being weird about Italians.  You can look up who's in the movie, but I suspect you already know.

The movie is fine.  I won't make the mistake my friends who have kids make that declare "my kid liked it, ergo, this is a good movie."  That path leads to madness.  Instead, I can see that the film is intended to appeal in a certain way, and nobody tried to outsmart what Mario is or does and how his world works, and it's fine.  No weird re-do's on major characters or concepts thrown in that are anathema to actual fans.  No one is talking down to the audience, they're showing the audience the game in the coolest, boldest way possible.  If you like that stuff.  I'm still like "whatevs", but I had a good time sharing Junior Mints with my niece.  And I really liked the ape city and whatnot.  Quality Donkey Konging.

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