Today on Grantland, Karina Longworth has written an amazing piece on what exactly went wrong on the infamous flop "Super Mario Bros.," a movie we've reviewed here during our video game month all the way back in January 2011 (feels like yesterday). For those who haven't seen the movie, it's a bizarrely uneven mash-up of Blade Runner dystopian sci-fi, references to several video-games, almost all of them completely re-envisioned, and jokes about tacky Italian women. Amazingly, the Italian jokes still feel pretty current. The article talks about what went wrong, how a character with huge brand recognition failed so spectacularly at the box office. I theorized about its failings a bit in my review, but I think what it comes down to is: people like Mario games because they are fun. People did not like the Mario Bros. movie because it is the direct opposite of fun. It falls into the trap of other prequels in that it spends way too much time explaining how the things you know came to be, and almost no time being a fun, compelling story. It even teases us with an ending that seems to promise a fun, action-heavy sequel.
Critics correctly identified the movie as "dumb," but thought it would still be a hit because kids must like dumb stuff, right? Except that the bleak set design, posters, and everything else seemed to be explicitly trying to distance the movie from the source material. In a hilarious disconnect between children who liked Mario and adults talking about Mario, NYT critic Michael Specter wrote:
"The city, a future-shock melding of Times Square and downtown, is called Dinohattan. And the despot, the evil King Koopa, has to find a way to merge the rest of New York -- which was sheared off from Dinohattan in a meteor blast 65 million years earlier -- with his desiccated, reptilian empire.