What A Mario Movie Could Learn From Sonic (And Arnold Schwarzenegger)
We are eight months away from the December 2022 release of the Super Mario Bros. movie starring Garfield himself, Chris Pratt. This means that Nintendo fans should prepare themselves psychologically for the imminent arrival of the first teaser trailer, because let's face it: this movie has every right to suck. Not just because video game movies in general tend to be stinkers, but also because the Mario franchise has very specific rules that make it challenging to adapt into a movie that makes sense. That said, we believe there is a way to make a Mario movie work: by borrowing a little meta-narrative trick from Mario's main rival and Chris Pratt's father-in-law Arnold. (To be clear, those are two different people.)
The conundrum the filmmakers behind any Mario movie face is that they have to be faithful to a beloved universe of characters that were never supposed to exist outside of 10-second cutscenes.
Unlike in the '90s, you can't just throw the source material away, make some stuff up, and call it (Insert Video Game Name Here): The Movie -- Marvel has proved that staying true to what made the characters work in their original medium is a good way to make the fans happy and make lots of money. Unfortunately, "what works in video games" and "what works in movies" are very different things. The plot of the first game starring Mario was "an ape stole your girlfriend, go save her." Super Mario Bros. changed that to "Okay, so now you're in a world full of giant mushrooms and a dragon or something stole a princess, go save her." At some point while saving the princess over and over (a trope that was already overdone when these games started), Mario began going go-kart racing with the dragon, the princess, the cute dinosaur friend he keeps mistreating, his brother, his evil mirror version, and the princess again but with different colors, among others. Then he goes to space.
More than a narrative, this franchise follows an anti-narrative that gleefully repeats and contradicts itself. It makes no sense, but that's the Mario universe we all know and love, and we'll personally throw a shit fit if this canon is disrespected. So how do you fit that into a conventional movie structure? (We're guessing Nintendo and the people behind the Minions movies aren't interested in doing an experimental art film.) Well, the Sonic movie had the right idea about one thing: first of all, separate this universe from the one where the bulk of the action will take place. The story could start with Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom, easily saving Princess Peach for the 800th and then telling a defeated Bowser: "Tennis later?"
Mario always wins because those are just the rules of this world, and Bowser is a joke who has been reduced to cheating at board games to get some sliver of satisfaction. But then Mario, feeling bored of the endless princess-saving routine, takes a portal into the real world and tries to go back to being a regular plumber in Brooklyn. Obviously, it doesn't work, because Mario has forgotten how to be a regular human anymore (picture him trying to unclog a toilet by throwing fireballs into it). In desperately trying to open a portal back to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario accidentally ends up bringing Bowser ... who suddenly becomes an actual threat, since the rules of this universe are different.
Remember in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero when the stereotypical movie villain played by Charles Dance comes into our world and realizes he can kill people without a loose cannon cop instantly coming down on his ass? It'd be like that, but with a giant lizard brutally taking over New York with his turtle army.
Now regular plumber Mario is hilariously ill-equipped to deal with the threat. This approach would incorporate the nonsensical, anti-narrative video game canon into the story while also presenting actual stakes and a real challenge for the characters. Of course, the movie began production years ago, so if it's anything like what we just described it'll be by pure coincidence (but we'll pretend we had something to do with it anyway). And if it doesn't and it flops, there's always the next remake in 29 more years. Hit us up in 2051, Hollywood!
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
Top image: Nintendo, Paramount Pictures