There’s no question the MCU’s unparalleled success has radically altered the way in which Hollywood studios view their IPs. In the aftermath of Avengers’ success, Warner Bros. put their own plans in place for a comic book cinematic universe of shared-stories. The DCEU was the result and things have been…rocky ever since. Universal got in the game soon after by trying to get a “Monster Movie universe” off the ground, featuring the likes of The Mummy, Jekyll and Hyde, The Invisible Man, maybe Dracula, I dunno; if it sounds laughably bad that’s because it is. The jury is still out on whether the upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla will do for icon vs icon fights what Batman v Superman promised (and failed to deliver). The point is, everyone is getting in the game but few besides DC and Marvel have the depth of characters to pull it off, and fewer still have the reason to create such a shared universe in the first place.
Sure, Universal has a lot of “monster” movies in their library, but does anyone really need to see The Mummy rubbing elbows with Frankenstein’s Monster in a serious, dramatic (or even action-oriented) context? No, because there’s no relation between the two characters other than they’re both (presumed) monsters and they happen to be associated with the same film company. That’s hardly the same as the lengthy history of stories featuring Iron Man and Hulk or Batman and Flash.
There is one more major entertainment player that has both the sizable roster of characters and a built-in context for their team up…
Nintendo has been making video games with franchise mascots since the mid-80s and in that time they’ve helped characters like Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Pikachu, Donkey Kong and more rise in prominence to the level of Mickey Mouse. The Big N, however, is notoriously protective of their IP and, after being burned pretty substantially with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. movie, it’s understandable why they’ve been hesitant to commit much more to the Hollywood model.
Times have changed in recent years, however. Nintendo allowed Bowser to appear in Disney’s Wreck-It-Ralph. A few years later they gave the greenlight on a film based around Pikachu. Granted, it wasn’t a full-blown Pokemon movie, but instead was based off a minor spinoff game, Detective Pikachu, but still, it was a huge movie. Finally there’s the 2022 Super Mario Bros. animated movie, being developed by Illumination.
Why the change? Probably it has to do with the massive new Super Nintendo World theme park that’s being developed for a 2020 opening at Universal Studios Japan (with expansion to other parks around the world to come later). Nintendo needs to expand their brand to ensure steady park ticket sales and there’s no bigger untapped mine for them than film. The question is, can a cinematic universe of Nintendo films work? I say yes, and I think there are three factors to keep in mind to make it work…
It Would Need To Embrace Variety
Universal’s Dark Universe of monster movies flopped out of the gate because the characters at the heart of the franchise lack the potential for crossover appeal of someone like Iron Man or Wonder Woman. Nintendo, however, has a roster full of easily marketable characters, each of which are able to stand alone in solo franchises and fit together in occasional team-up films. Captain America’s movies were different in tone and style to Thor’s films, which were very different from Iron Man’s, etc. A Wonder Woman movie is not an Aquaman film, and so on. There’s not as much variety or potential for sequels with characters like The Invisible Man or Dracula.
Imagine a Mario movie with the playful adventure of The LEGO Movie. Imagine a Zelda with the swashbuckling fantasy tropes of a Kubo and the Two Strings. Imagine a moody, sci-fi action movie based on Metroid that’s akin to (a lightened-up version of) the Castlevania show on Netflix. Imagine the world of PokÃ©mon as seen in Detective Pikachu…without the detectives. There’s a large canvas to play around in for a whole universe of Nintendo movies to show off.
It Would Need Patience and Vision
The template to follow, naturally, is the MCU. A big team-up movie is, of course, the ultimate goal but it’s not one that you can rush to reach. Look to the DCEU for a lesson in what not to do. On the other hand, Marvel worked through their big four characters (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Cap) over the course of five movies before doing the team-up. And even though no non-Iron Man movie even came close to what the Robert Downey Jr. films made, and even though there was no one who saw Captain America or Thor that didn’t see Iron Man, by the time the team-up film happened, four years after the MCU started, the franchise increased its box office ceiling by 40%.
In other words, everyone who saw Iron Man 2 also saw Cap and Thor and Hulk, but Avengers brought in people who hadn’t seen any of those movies. Contrast that with Justice League which made less money than any of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, or Wonder Woman. Fewer people came to see it because nothing was earned and the novelty of the “team-up” was wasted. Patience is the key. Fortunately for Nintendo, they have shown more than enough willingness to take things slow over the years.
Some of us are still waiting for F-Zero GX 2.
At the same time, this Nintendo Cinematic Universe needs vision. It has to be building toward something from the beginning. On that note, following Disney’s approach to Star Wars should be avoided. Instead of just winging it and hoping for the best, set a goal in mind (an “endgame” if you will) and move every film subtly and surely toward that goal. What should be the goal of a Nintendo movie universe? Easy…
It Would Need to Build Towards Smash Bros.
Smash Bros. was, after all, Nintendo’s first foray into the world of “shared universes.” Long before the MCU, the N64 brought all of Nintendo’s biggest mascots together for a fighting game like no other. Today, Smash Bros. is one of the Big N’s most successful and culturally-influencing franchises, with each new video game console releasing with tremendous anticipation for what the next Smash Bros. will be like. There’s no better film adaptation to build to, and no more natural place to take a shared universe of Nintendo films, than to the lair of Master Hand.
Master Hand is the big bad of the universe, manipulating everything behind the scenes, eventually leading the heroes to fight amongst themselves before they finally team up to take him down. Where you go from there, in future team-up movies, involves Subspace Emissary, the mysterious Tabuu, and the World of Light. These are mere sketches of ideas as depicted in the games, but they provide enough of a framework to help the world of Smash Bros. on film come to life.All it needs is a little patience, a little faith in the characters, and the continued willingness by Nintendo to let their characters step into the playground of the cinema. With a Smash Bros. film, I see a potential gold mine just waiting to be unearthed.
As a Nintendo fan, I hope the company sees it too.
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