Part of Sonic’s success has been establishing Dr. Robotnik as a genuine threat, so Super Mario Bros. should introduce Bowser in the same way.
Jim Carrey’s second outing as Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has been another hit and the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie can learn a lot from how Paramount has established their main villain. Bowser has been confirmed as the film’s big bad and he will be voiced by Jack Black. Like Carrey did for Sonic’s archenemy, it’s inevitable that the exuberant Black will bring fun, over-the-top energy to the role of Bowser. But Bowser needs to be handled carefully so that he can be a credible on-screen threat like Dr. Robotnik.
As the primary antagonists in their respective video games, Dr. Robotnik and Bowser naturally share a number of similarities. Both are larger-than-life characters who invent complex, evil schemes to achieve their dreams of ultimate power. Robotnik typically does this in the games by trying to steal the Chaos Emeralds to conquer the world, whilst Bowser famously kidnaps Princess Peach in the hope that the Mushroom Kingdom will give in to his tyrannical demands. Carrey’s portrayal of Robotnik has worked well in the live-action Sonic franchise, which gives the Super Mario Bros. hopeful the belief that the King of the Koopas can have an equally strong outing.
Bowser does not need to be a fully formed beast in the first Super Mario Bros. One of Sonic the Hedgehog‘s strengths was that it gave Dr. Robotnik space to evolve as a character and develop his maniacal personality. Robotnik wasn’t a complete nobody; he entered as a world-leading scientist tasked with capturing Sonic. But because he was introduced as a grounded version of the mad professor, the audience had time to watch his resentment and frustration toward Sonic grow, which peaked by the ending of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Bowser’s storyline should copy this. He doesn’t need to know who Mario and Luigi are at the start of the film because it would be more compelling to watch his animosity for the brothers grow from their first encounter, and that will also help viewers better understand his motives.
The Sonic sequel allowed Jim Carrey to ham up his performance with Robotnik becoming more similar in looks and personality to his video game namesake. While setting up a franchise from the first film is not always sensible, it would be smart for the writers of Super Mario Bros. to take a similar approach to Sonic. Holding back some of Bowser’s iconic abilities, like his fire breath, could act as a way of establishing Bowser as a more powerful foe for Mario and Luigi in later installments of the Nintendo franchise following his inevitable defeat in Super Mario Bros., 2022’s next video game adaptation.
Having a naive, younger version of Bowser would also allow him to come back in the sequel smarter and with a better strategy to rule the Mushroom Kingdom. Robotnik’s return in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came with a new ally, Knuckles, and more powerful technology, including his Death Egg Robot. A battle-hardened Bowser alone would be a daunting task for Mario and Luigi, but if he were to plot his revenge with backup then the stakes in the sequels could be ramped up. Enlisting the help of Wario and Waluigi, launching an attack with Mecha-Bowser, or transforming into Fury Bowser would make him a more terrifying enemy. There is a lot that Super Mario Bros. can learn from Sonic, but the key to its success will be giving Bowser time to develop into a genuine threat to Mario and Luigi, as Dr. Robotnik did for Sonic.
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