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'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' Rewatch: The Only Hope Is the Sweet Relief of Death
Billion-dollar blockbuster, now streaming on Peacock TV.
Now Streaming: As much fun as watching someone else’s kids play a video game.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is not something I would usually choose to watch on a Saturday afternoon, but here’s the thing: film critics are beholden to advance screenings and paltry payments, if any, so the luxury of catching up with new releases in theaters is often much more limited than you might imagine -- it's expensive to watch multiple movies in a single month -- which means that some (many? most?) of us rely upon streaming services to catch up during the first nine months of the year with whatever we’ve missed seeing. (After that, awards-consideration screeners begin arriving, which are handy, if not ideal due to their lower-resolution quality. Better than nothing, and much appreciated by those of us with meager means.)
All that to say I was feeling kinda blue that I missed the advance screening for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem the previous Saturday morning, and realized it's been nearly 30 days since I've had the chance to write about family-friendly entertainment that adults might enjoy, even those of us without children. (Which is the point of this newsletter, after all!)
Thus, when I saw The Super Mario Bros. Movie had just made its streaming debut on Peacock this past Thursday, I told myself: 'Self, you should watch that movie again and see if you were dead wrong about it being absolutely terrible, as you wrote in your review some four months ago.' So I watched it again, and the line of dialogue quoted in the headline made me laugh: "The only hope is the sweet relief of death."
That line was the only thing that made me laugh, however. (Polygon published a good explainer by Joshua Rivera that gets into the details of the character who utters that deathless wish, tracing it back to a specific edition of the video-game series.) As I watched, I had most of the running time -- 92 minutes, including credits -- to ponder why the movie failed to grab me in the slightest, and how on earth it has managed to make $1.35 billion at the box office worldwide (so far).
The most obvious answer is that there was nothing else to compete with it in theaters from April until late May, when The Little Mermaid, followed by Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Elemental, were unleashed. Hungry for any new family-friendly movies for the previous three months, the appetite for something suitable was huge, obviously.
Watching it again only reinforced my reservations: confusing insult humor with genuine wit, video game-inspired action sequences that quickly become wearisome with repetition, pointless musical montages, and an increasingly dark tone lightened only by unsteady messaging.
Its one thing to play a video-game, after all quite another to watch someone else play it; what can be fun when you're at the controls becomes markedly less interesting when you hand the controller to a stranger, only to be constantly nudged by the stranger: see what I'm doing? Isn't that neat? Watch me now!
The animation skews toward imitation 80s video game aesthetics, which looked amazing on first viewing in the 80s, and nowadays looks like …. the 80s. When your eyes have become accustomed to gazing upon 4K imagery, it's startling to realize how … retro … the 80s look. And The Super Mario Bros. Movie is presented on Peacock TV in glorious 4K. Er, great?!
It's captured gloriously, by the way, which speaks to the technology available today, in case you want to check it out for yourself. As an animation fan, that may be the film’s saving grace, as many, many talented artists worked diligently to recreate a popular video game series’ look and feel. If nothing else, it’s something that nostalgic adults and those with children may appreciate for their young ones to watch, over and over and over again. [Peacock TV]