The Subversion of Mario in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (2023)

I recently watched The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) as I was curious about its quality. Movies based on video games tend to be complete garbage, and some rank probably among the worst movies ever made. There is even a German movie maker, Uwe Boll, who built a career out of producing absolutely horrific video game adaptations. Supposedly he made money via exploiting tax loop holes but I would not at all be surprised if he simply laundered mob money. Anyway, my expectations for the Mario movie were quite low, and they were met.

Overall, this movie seems to target little children. However, it is largely built on references to various Mario games. Thus, the real audience seem to be gamers. The story is pretty nonsensical. It makes even less sense than a porn plot that was blown up to fill 90 minutes. There are plenty of deus-ex-machina moments and sudden shifts in the story that come absolutely out of nowhere. If you do not suffer from ADHD, you will be at a severe disadvantage.

The worst part of this movie is the depiction of Mario and Princess Peach. In the games, Mario rescues Peach, like the good little cuck he is. For risking his life he only ever gets a kiss on the cheek. I think in some games he does not even get that. In this movie, he basically serves as the perennial butt of jokes. Nobody takes him, his brother Luigi, or their plumbing business seriously, not even his own family. As Mario and Luigi try to fix a leak in the luxury NYC townhouse of a rich black couple (yes, really), they eventually end up getting sucked into a parallel world where Bowser is at it again, chasing after Princess Peach. This caused not the least bit of surprise in those two plucky plumbers, for whatever reason. Countless “isekai” mangas or animes could have been used for inspiration. Clearly, you just don’t travel to a parallel world and just shrug it off. If you are a plumber named Mario, I guess that’s what you do, even if this is your first time leaving the real world.

Princess Peach is a Mary Sue. She can do the most acrobatic moves, making Mario look like a bumbling fool. Mario basically just tags along. There is a cringe-worthy scene in the first 1/3 to 1/2 where Princess Peach conjures up an obstacle course for Mario. He fails, and fails, and fails again. In the end, Peach gets fed up and tells him that he can come along with her and fight Bowser regardless. Then Peach tells him that she was able to do this obstacle course on her first try. Where have I encountered this trope before? It could not have been in any of the countless other feminist movies I did not watch.

There is hardly any moment in the movie where Mario is shown to be competent in the slightest, but there are moments where this is completely inverted, i.e. he succeeds at something, but only seemingly. This can mean that he fixes a leaky pipe, only for a bigger pipe to burst. Later on, he is shown to be basically completely helpless, and in the climactic showdown with Bowser he even needs the help of his loser brother Luigi who suddenly gets his act together.

I also recall another scene I found very distasteful. In the video game lore, much is made of the Italian heritage of Mario and Luigi. Ever since Nintendo put voice samples into their games, Mario speaks with an Italian accent. Yet, in this movie, it is revealed that they are faking the accent. This is a very tasteless joke and nothing but a slap in the face of long-time fans. It reminds me of how Disney, in recent Star Wars movies, has dragged the most iconic characters of this franchise through the mud. Suddenly, you learn that Han Solo was not a hero but instead an intergalactic scammer and all-around despicable human being.

It is not quite clear what this movie wants to achieve, besides catering to feminist sensibilities. If you think that you would enjoy looking at CGI creations of 2D and 3D obstacle courses for Mario, or Mario Kart inspired races then it is probably decent enough. Yet, I cannot take this movie serious at all. Hopefully, Nintendo does not take too many cues from Mario, because if they do, they will have Princess Peach rescue Mario from Bowser in their next game.

18 thoughts on “The Subversion of Mario in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (2023)

  1. On a side note, not all video game movies are bad. The one exception I can think of is Dragon Quest: Your Story, which I really enjoyed. The animation is great, and the story is not just coherent but moving. I highly recommend it, and if you had to choose between the Mario movie and the former, I would not nudge you towards our favorite fat Italian plumber.

  2. I have not seen the movie. There was a scene I watched on youtube where Bowser cringingly belts out an atrocious serenade to Peach. At that moment I knew for sure just how bad this movie was liable to be.

    1. In the movie, this is a scene that was probably added for comic relief. It is quite horrible but far from the worst scene.

    2. TotK turned out pretty good. Let’s hope we get a Zelda movie soon where Link is a dumbass and Zelda is a snarky bitch.

    3. I watched a bit of gameplay footage and skimmed some reviews. It seems that even people who did not like BotW enjoy TotK. In any case, I put this game on my list.

      I got a bit deeper into Mr. Driller than expected. This is a pretty neat action-puzzler. If there is one flaw then it is that it is easy to make a mistake, and unfortunately there is no way to recover as the number of lives per game is limited and fixed. Thus, this seemingly bright and cheerful game is really brutal. Sometimes, you involuntarily trigger a chain reaction of the blocks you drilled down into, only to end up dislodging one lone block that was completely out of sight, which will kill you. This can probably be overcome by playing more carefully, yet this contradicts the main flow of the game, which is based on drilling down quickly and picking up air-supply capsules along the way. I found a few Japanese super-plays and even world-record holders (there are multiple games, modes, and characters) end up sometimes getting killed out of seemingly nowhere.

    4. I will have to check out some speed runs of Mr. Driller. It’s great that you’ve gotten into the game to such a degree. Also, it seems rather unlikely that you would’ve just stumbled across this gem and developed a fondness for it. How did that even manifest?

      If you do decide to play TotK one day then just realize that it’s scale and scope is simply awe inspiring. In terms of sheer content the $70 price tag seems justifiable. You’ll decide on a goal for something you want to accomplish and then suddenly your attention has been pulled in several different directions and you end up never accomplishing what originally intended to. I think one of the biggest problems with the game is that it does, as you sort of alluded to, make BotW look like a tech demo in comparison. This is kind of an issue because it makes that game almost completely irrelevant. Also, not only has the original map completely overhauled, but of course there are the skylands, and to my great surprise I quickly discovered that the underneath of the main map portion has been converted into an entirely new pitch black (there are light beacons that act as fast travel points and light up portions of the map, and you must create your own light sources to explore between areas that are not yet illuminated) underground area. These areas are initially accessible via chasms, and it’s such a sight to hop from a skyland and then fall all the way into a deep chasm. However, another noticeable drag on the game is performance. It’s not game breaking by any means, but the Switch is certainly struggling to run this game at times. It’s amazing what they were able to accomplish given the hardware limitations, however.

    5. I am currently working on the 1000m mode in Mr. Driller, and you clearly need to be a bit of a masochist as the difficulty ramps up significantly as the game progresses. This is also nicely tied to the game’s setting as your character consumes air faster the deeper he digs. I have only been playing this game semi-seriously for less than two weeks and I made it past the 800m mark already. While this is a difficult game, I don’t think it is anywhere near as difficult as Tetris the Grand Master.

      Mr. Driller is a pretty long-running franchise and I had been aware of its existence for many years. There was even a re-release of the Gamecube version of it for Switch a while ago. I don’t think it never really broke into the mainstream, even though it was popular enough in Japanese arcades for Namco to put out two sequels in two years. Only due to that Matthewmatosis video I mentioned earlier did my curiosity get roused again. Initially, my interest in this game was due to my preference for (genuine) single-player action puzzle games, of which there are not that many. Other games in this sub-genre are Cleopatra Fortune, Aquarush and, of course, old-school Tetris. Most action-puzzle games make you fight against a CPU, e.g. Puyo Puyo, Columns, Magical Drop, etc.

      I watched a performance comparison of BotW and TotK, and I was quite impressed by the latter looking quite a bit better and also running more smoothly. I almost feel tempted to buy a Switch Lite, but there are so many other games I want to play first, now that I have a decent-enough laptop at my disposal. I will finally give Resident Evil 2 a spin tomorrow, by the way.

    6. I just mentioned free falling from the sky into a chasm, but one thing I wanted to mention is the musical score. When you first jump off a massively high vantage point there begins this uplifting little piano roll that just keeps repeating. In will come some some light woodwind sections eventually, like flutes and stuff. Once you reach a certain altitude, as in closer to the ground, some brass horns cue up and the piano roll drops about an octave or so and slows down a bit. Yet, if you fall into a chasm from this point you get this super horrendous sounding horn cue and the piano roll goes from melodic to dissonant. The attention to detail in this game in general is ridiculous.

    7. Dynamic soundtracks are great. It is unfortunate that not many games use them, but it is also obvious how much more difficult they are to create. It seems that Nintendo really outdid themselves with TotK, which I am very happy to see, given the record-levels of cynicism in the consumer base nowadays. The game is also selling like crazy. I just saw note that Nintendo sold 10 million copies in just three days, which is incredible. It is also quite astounding that BotW and TotK increased the popularity of this series by leaps and bounds — after over three decades! Zelda games used to sell okay, but never great for Nintendo standards, and now this series is one of their best-selling franchises. (EA and any other triple-A studio would have killed the Zelda franchise ten times by now.)

    8. Oh, I didn’t realize Me. Driller was on the Switch, I’ll definitely have to look that up and check it out.

      TotK got a day 1 patch that fixed a lot of the performance issues. There are virtually zero bugs or glitches that I’ve noticed. Yet, the Switch is certainly still struggling (at times) to hold 30 frames. Once even as I was diving into a chasm at high velocity the game froze for half a second seemingly to load in the underground section before resuming. I suspect that when the next Nintendo console drops that there’ll be a definitive version of the game with all the DLC and perhaps even more extra content, that will perform at 60 FPS and maybe even with updated graphics (but what do I know?).

      At the rate at which this game is selling, and if it spans across two consoles, it may turn out to be the best selling Zelda title of all time. Who knows, maybe if they can keep this up it the franchise will be on a trajectory to become as big as Pokemon. Considering how god awful those last Pokemon games performed, they’re not doing themselves any favor in terms of goodwill towards the fanbase.

      Before TotK dropped I actually re-installed REmake 2 and ran through Leon/Claire’s A scenarios in about 2.5 hours a piece again—without skipping cutscenes. I still love the game. It’s probably one of my favorite games ever and certainly my most played in terms of replaying it. Lmk how you like it!

    9. The Switch version is Mr. Driller Drill Land, which seems to have a lot of bells and whistles whereas the first two versions, Mr. Driller and Mr. Driller 2, offer a much nicer package that focuses on core mechanics. Even Mr. Driller 2 already dilutes the formula.

      I expect there to be a cross-gen version of TotK for Nintendo’s next console, similar to what happened to BotW. Possibly there will even be backward compatibility, which was always offered in their old GameBoy and DS lines of handheld consoles.

    10. Your remark about Pokemon just reminded me of something. The original Pokemon craze passed me by as I was a bit too old at that point already, and a good argument can be made that some franchises grow big because of generational attachment. It’s the same with Tetris, the original Doom, GTA (a kids’ favorite!), Fortnite, or Minecraft, and if you were not in the right demographic at the time of release, you do not care all that much about them. However, the stroke of genius of Gamefreak and Nintendo was to not just build a videogame franchise but to ride the wave and branch out into all kinds of areas, such as trading cards, comic books, soft toys, or anime. Thus, Pokemon was able to sustain high popularity even if some of games were not selling all that well, for the franchise’s standard. Of course, the universal appeal of Pokemon leads to parents, who played this game as kids, introducing their own kids to this franchise as well.

      I do not think that the Zelda universe has the same appeal as the Pokemon franchise. For instance, I am a cynical and jaded guy and the first time I encountered a Snorlax, of course a sleeping one, in my unfinished playthrough of Pokemon FireRed, I was quite smitten by it, and some pokemon I put into my party just because I liked their design. That being said, BotW has shown incredible longevity, selling great all throughout the Switch’s lifespan, and surely TotK will keep selling well for years, too. Thus, Zelda could establish itself as the go-to open-world franchise for Nintendo, and turn into one of those games most console owners will almost reflexively buy, which is quite similar to the role GTA, FIFA, or CoD play on PlayStation. Nintendo has Zelda, Smash, and Splatoon, which scratch similar itches. I even wonder if Nintendo could have gotten away with rereleasing BotW on their next console, skipping TotK, and thus copying the approach of GTA V, which likewise appeared on three console generations.

    11. It’s got me wondering what the next Zelda entry in like 2029 will be like already. Considering the massive success they’re having with this formula it stands to reason that the franchise will be open world from here on out. However, I wonder if Nintendo has ever contemplated making a full remake of OoT, and if they did how well would it sell. Though a lot of fans are nostalgic for that old formula with themed dungeons and key items, I seriously doubt Nintendo ever wants to revert back to that to appease a highly vocal (and probably) minority.

      Also, as a side note, I don’t really know how to properly rate games. I either like them or I don’t I’d say. That said, I’m not entirely sure the glowing reviews for TotK are justified. It seems that when Nintendo puts a game like this out that their dicks just get sucked because, well, Nintendo.

    12. Regardless of whether TotK deserves the high praise it gets or not, it seems that this is a very well-made game, as are all Nintendo games. They are polished to a degree where there are no obvious flaws, even though speedrunners may find various shortcuts ten or fifteen years down the line. I agree that it is difficult to quantify how good a game is. In the end, I think a game is good, in my opinion, if I want to keep playing it, and this does not mean that a game has to be “fun”. I get a kick out of getting better at mechanically challenging games, for instance, and this also means that you need, as I mentioned earlier, a bit of a masochistic streak. I also had a phase where I was into tough puzzle by Zachtronics, which I found, at times, as challenging, if not more so, than some of the engineering work that constitutes my day job, and they were just as rewarding.

    13. This video made me laugh. If you give players endless freedom, within fixed constraints in the game world, people end up creating dick-shaped weapons, apparently.

    14. In regards to having masochistic tendencies related to gaming I think you’d almost certainly have to be to genuinely enjoy those souls-like games. I remember trying to get through a hardcore run in REmake 2 the first couple of times and even getting locked out of progressing the first time. Having only a few bullets in the clip of a shitty handgun with a dozen or so zombies are still left shuffling around the police department while this invincible hulking giga Chad in a trench coat stalks you isn’t exactly “fun”. However, I just very much wanted to be able to complete the challenge, and then I wanted to get the S+ rank to acquire alp the infinite weapons as well as all the collectibles to get the infinite knife. Since I’ve unlocked all that stuff, though, I don’t even use it on subsequent play throughs as they make the game mind numbingly trivial.

  3. I did end up watching this movie if only for no other reason that I had a free movie ticket and it was the only film I could fit into the free time slot i had available that weekend.

    Its every bit as stupid as Aaron says, but I assumed the movie does not even attempt to be taken seriously, and went with the lowest of expectations. I managed to get a few laughs out of it, I will admit, but my time would have been better spent elsewhere.

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