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Scott Pilgrim vs. The Expendables

That’s right, I went out and saw the two epic new releases for geeks like me who grew up with gritty, over-the-top action movies and surreal, jaunty 8- and 16-bit video games– Eat, Pray, Love and Charlie St. Cloud! Hold on, that’s not right. Where are my notes?

Right, right. Some friends and I treated ourselves to a double feature of what we assumed would be relentless awesomeness. I had begun writing my review before ever setting my eyes on the screen, a letter to my future wife apologizing for our mutual loss due to being rocked so hard by this film onslaught that my John Thomas exploded. However, when it was all said and done, I escaped with genitals unscathed. Which film failed the all-important testicular trauma test? Find out under the cut!

Scoot Pogrom Vexes the Walrus

No film this year– hell, no film this century– exhibits such a complete commitment to its visual aesthetic as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does, evident from the arcade start-up version of the Universal logo that opens the movie. Director Edgar Wright’s previous works– the TV show Spaced, the films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz– portray him as keenly aware of pop culture, not just in his ability to reference it, but also in his ability to transcend the genres he works within. Spaced featured characters whose lives were defined by how they processed pop culture, past and present, incorporating absurd homages to the kind of entertainment characters Tim and Daisy (and writers/stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson/Hynes) had absorbed over the years. The exact same thing happens to Scott Pilgrim in this film, as his reality filters through his own pop culture sensibilities– video games. What this allows Wright to do is fill every frame of the movie with the visual grammar of video games, as well as the comics from which the film is based: sound effects, on-screen text, speed lines, 1-Ups, even pee bars. It feels as if every shot of this movie features clever onscreen graphics or Raimi-inspired whip pans. Edgar Wright’s visual style is second to none. It really is a gorgeous looking musical, but with fights– except for the bits that are also musical numbers. Every fight brings something clever and different, whether it’s a Bollywood number, a bass-off, or a gigantic spectral gorilla.

Of course, there are also people in this movie, people like Michael Cera, who plays charmingly awkward better than anyone, but knows when to bring some backbone. The character of Scott Pilgrim begins as a twentysomething slacker, looking for the safest path of least resistance, until a girl literally rollerblades through his dreams, and lo, there comes a quest. Is this a story of young love, or a story of a screw-up learning to take responsibility for his actions? Yes, Virginia, there is story here, it’s not just cool graphics, though the graphics are cool, and the jokes are very funny. You won’t see a better cast in anything all year; reports have it that Kieran Kulkin steals the show as Wallace Wells, but really, Ellen Wong walks away with this picture as Knives Chau, Scott’s 17-year old sort-of-girlfriend-or-whatever, an adorable heartstring-tugger who gets the second-biggest character arc of the flick. Then there’s, well, everybody else, from Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s laconic Ramona Flowers to Jason Schwartzman’s final boss; there’s a lot of characters in this thing, but even the li’l bittiest roles nail their parts, and everyone gets defining traits and moments.

Basically, I’m in lesbians with this movie. A mighty backlash has arisen, however, and the paltry box office seems to reflect that. Personally, I cannot fathom why this movie isn’t universally praised. I admit, however, that the target demographic is probably small, but I fall so perfectly within it that it feels like they made this movie just for me. It’s my life, on the screen, but with fight scenes and musical numbers and stuff. Go see this film. It is essential viewing, an ingenious, relentlessly entertaining masterpiece that doesn’t waste a scrap of celluloid.

I should probably read the comics, then.

The Expungables

Meanwhile, we have The Expendables, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, who also stars in it about thirteen times over. Oh, wait, no, those are other people! My mistake. Yes, this picture does feature 90% of your favorite action stars from the past 30 years. Yes, that makes this an “event” picture, a talky the masses want to see! It’s a veritable high school reunion of action stars, a throwback to the action movies we loved back in the 1980s– except 80s movies had actual plots, remember? Stallone doesn’t.

Thematically, this is a movie about ugliness. Ugly men (except Jason Statham), aging and past their prime (except Jason Statham), fight uglier men, and try not to be ugly on the inside. The actors look like meat robots, with skin like melting plastic– fitting for their characters, mercenary killers for hire who live by a vague code of honor but mostly blow people up and hang out at a tattoo parlor. Yet, for some reason, Barney Ross (that’s Stallone’s character, with the least ridiculous name in the entire thing), feels pangs within his chest– no, not angina, but the need for justice, the need to do the right thing. It leads him and his team down to a fictional South American island country, where they try to save a girl, free the people from General Angel-from-Dexter’s Castro-esque iron fist, and stop Eric Roberts’ evil rogue CIA agent from doing something vague with drugs and stuff.

Like I said, there’s no story here. The title of the film apparently has no significance whatsoever, but metatextually, it surely refers to how blatantly unnecessary most of the characters are. The only one with any sort of character arc is Stallone. Lee Christmas (played by Jason Statham) wants to do right by his lady, so halfway through the movie he beats up a guy who hit her and then we never see or hear from her again for the rest of the runtime. The remaining characters get even shorter shrift. Dolph Lundgren plays Gunner Jensen, the traitor who liked hurting people a little too much, and apparently has a smack problem; Randy Couture’s character “Toll Road” is based entirely around the guy’s cauliflower ear and love of good therapy; Jet Li (“Yin Yang”) is short (yes, that is his sole defining trait for all 103 minutes); Terry Crews (“Hale Caesar”) has three lines and a ridiculous gun; Eric Roberts (“Eric Roberts”– wait a minute) is evil and controlling. Whereas Scott Pilgrim makes the most of even its smallest characters, The Expendables has no idea what to do with its cast, besides parading them out for a festival of violence in the third act, in which everything that could possibly explode does, as well as a few things that probably shouldn’t be exploding. The script doesn’t even bother to serve up silly quips and zingers for these guys; every line is a dud.

Mickey Rourke appears as former Expendable and wise mentor figure “Tool,” the guy who owns the tattoo parlor where all these killer frat boys hang out. Looking like he filmed his part on weekends off from Iron Man 2, complete with metal teeth, bizarre hair, silly tattoos, gross fingernails, and an absurd pipe instead of a parrot as his quirky affectation, Rourke shows everybody else up by doing some legitimate acting. Roberts might be the runner-up, chewing the scenery like Matter-Eater Lad; Stallone gives it his all in the emoting department, and this man can only move half his face. The worst actors? Most surely Randy Couture, out of his league in a movie where half the cast might as well be cardboard cutouts, but an honorable mention goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who doesn’t seem to be trying at all in his painful cameo, his worst performance since Junior.

I don’t begrudge Stallone his new career resurgence– Lord knows I loved Rambo 4– but The Expendables lacks the mania that movie had. People getting shot with arrows and then exploding into chunky red bits felt refreshing two years ago, but this movie feels tired and half-assed, much like this review.

33 Comments

I suspect that Scott Pilgrim is going to be a Princess Bride or a Shawshank Redemption or (in the best case scenario) a It’s a Wonderful Life. That is a movie that people didn’t even try to see in the theater for whatever reason, but that builds up a massive reputation over time as more people are exposed to it on home video and television reruns.

[…] a post-modern, self-aware, uber pop-culture video-game age chord that felt more obvious …Scott Pilgrim vs. The ExpendablesComic Book Resources'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,' and meCalifornia ChronicleAnti-hero to […]

I stopped reading after you said, “No film this year– hell, no film this century– exhibits such a complete commitment to its visual aesthetic as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does.”

A V A T A R

Comparing Scott Pilgrim to Shawshank Redemption is insulting to that (admittedly slightly overrated) film.
Comparisons to The Princess Pride are apt. If ScoPi is to find any success it will be as a cult favorite with some off-beat charm.

“Look out, Buckaroo! He’s got the OverThruster!”

[…] a post-modern, self-aware, uber pop-culture video-game age chord that felt more obvious …Scott Pilgrim vs. The ExpendablesComic Book Resources'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,' and meCalifornia ChronicleAnti-hero to […]

In response to ArrestThisMan, I’d like to be the first to say that Avatar can go screw.

Avatar’s obviously a terrible movie, but that’s not the question. The question is how committed is it to its visual aesthetic, in comparison to Scott Pilgrim.

And I think that Sin City, as awful a movie as it was, is also a pretty strong contender for most committed to its visual aesthetic. Moreso than Scott Pilgrim, for sure, since they didn’t alter the appearance of their actors to make them resemble Lee O’Malley’s artistic style.

My Two Cents:

Scott Pilgrim was a cool picture, but it kind of wanted something in the way of emotional depth, and I think a few more change-ups in the narrative would have served the movie well. Can anybody say this wasn’t exactly the film they were expecting based on the premise? There are a couple of neat twists – *SPOILERS* I like how the confidence level-up gives Scott a bigger boost than the power of love – but nothing that drastically diverts the film from its preset course: Dorky guy —> Pretty New Girl –> Obstacles –> Dorky Guy Removes Obstacles –> Dorky Guy Gets Girl (and takes something away from the experience).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this movie a lot. I think it’s an incredibly well-executed piece of entertainment, and while I still feel something was missing, I understand that too much complexity and depth would have proved antithetical to the video game tropes and intentionally fluffy, slacker vibe which seem to be as much a part of the movie as its plot and characters. But for these reasons, I’m not surprised that Scott Pilgrim isn’t “universally praised,” and would say its 80% rating on RottenTomatoes seems about right.

Oh and a couple of random thoughts (with spoilers):

Random Thought!: I really love the scene after the vegan police (is one of them Thomas Jane?) take away Brandon Routh’s powers. Pilgrim destroys Routh in dramatic slow-mo, but in the background, you can make out the police wooing and high-fiving each other. My description obviously doesn’t do it justice, but I thought that was one of the funniest scenes in the movie, along with all the great Kieran Culkin scenes.

Random Thought!: Are we supposed to believe Scott’s indictment of the Sex Bob-Ombs as terrible? I thought every song they played kicked ass.

On Scott Pilgrim:

I understand that the film is clearly not for everyone. But, like you say, it was clearly a film for me, and it absolutely nailed it. I read someone else, on the internet, say that it feels like it was aiming “not to be liked by many, but to be loved by some”, which I think sums it up nicely.

Cass, above me: I liked the Sex Bob-Ombs so much I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat for two days now. (Although The Clash at Demonhead are clearly superior, Black Sheep is the best song in the film.)

I stopped reading after you said, “No film this year– hell, no film this century– exhibits such a complete commitment to its visual aesthetic as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does.”

I stopped reading after you said “I stopped reading.”

I thought the last Sex Bob-omb song was great, but the lyrics to the first two are clearly terrible. Of course, I say that as someone else that owns the soundtrack and has listened to it a number of times. That they’re terrible also–SPOILER FOR THE BOOKS–ties into the comics in that there they really are terrible there, which is part of the resolution of volume 6. In the movie Beck did the music for them so they could only be so terrible.

I’ll also echo what Michael and Bill said: this was a movie designed to appeal to me. After seeing it I was convinced it would go on to be a mainstream success. Which just reiterated that I am terrible at predicting what movies will make money (I thought Avatar was terrible and that it would never make back it’s budget).

@Bill–if you liked the movie you really should read the comics. There are enough differences between the two, especially in terms of character development, that there’s still a lot to get out of reading them.

It’s funny that a poster above brought up Sin City, as that was my first thought after walking out of Scott Pilgrim. Not that they’re very similar in plot or style, but the integration of visual effects was very well done especially near the end of the film. I really enjoyed the movie beyond the visuals, it was like a sugar-induced coma fever dream. Not just the effects themselves, but the pacing, transitions and sets were a fantastic melding of realism and fantasy and the unpredictability of what was going to come next was great.

One thing I don’t think gets mentioned enough about the movie is Michael Cera’s pitch-perfect Scott Pilgrim. I was worried about how he’d come across because I thought one of the best things about the graphic novels was Scott’s singular voice. Cera does a great job of getting across Scott’s sarcastic naivete, where you’re not really sure if he’s in on his own joke or not.

I think there’s a very real exaustion with Cera as an actor right now, though, and while I think he’s very good at what he does, I don’t think the masses are looking for another Michael Cera-vehicle where he plays superficially the same character again. As unfortunate as it is, most people go to the movies to see the actors, story is a distant second and director is exponentially distant if it’s a consideration at all. Personally, I’m not all that bent out of shape about the BO numbers, I really enjoyed the movie, and look forward to getting it on BluRay when it’s released.

I’m very interested in picking up the soundtrack, as well. The music rocked, and I was excited, although not very surpised all things considered, that the various bands were fronts for the likes of Beck and Broken Social Scene. For all the (halarious) talk about how terrible the bands were, the music itself was pretty bad-ass.

Re-reading my post it’s clear that I have not had my morning cup of coffee. And that I need to make use of a thesaurus.

@ArrestThisMan

(really? that’s your real name?)

Avatar was released LAST year. It’s a 2009 release. Just because you may have seen it in 2010 doesn’t mean it’s a 2010 film, so technically, Bill’s comment is correct.

I’ve seen over 40 films in the theater this year (2010) and off the top of my head I’d have to agree with Bill about Scott Pilgrim committing itself to visuals. If I had to compare it to any other film (and I hate doing things like that, but..) I’d compare it to last year’s “Speed Racer”. Both films are EXTREMELY true to their source material. Both also take a unique and creative visual approach.

Oh, and Bill, I never read any of the books before I saw the film. The Next day I went to my comic shop and picked up a couple volumes. So what do you know, a movie CAN sell a comic or graphic novel!

“Lots of CGI” does not a visual commitment make, sorry. Every aspect of the Scott Pilgrim film relates back to its chosen style and central premise.

Speed Racer is a pretty good comparison. If Speed Racer had a better script and stronger acting, it would be just as good as Scott Pilgrim. I did enjoy Speed Racer, though, and I do own it on DVD– after all, it’s the only movie in which John Goodman fights a ninja.

I should probably read the comics, then.

Oh you didn’t read the comics. That explains why you think Michael Cera was well-cast in this role. Only people who didn’t read the comics or have an extreme hard-on for Arrested Development could believe that.

“Only people who didn’t read the comics or have an extreme hard-on for Arrested Development could believe that.”

???

Is that your opinion or is that fact.

So after I’ve read the books, if I feel that Cera was fine in the part it’s because I have some hard-on for “Arrested Development”? That’s the only reason I can have that opinion?

I guess we’ll never know how I would truly feel, due to my persistent Arrested Development boner.

I’m getting tired of seeing these comparison reviews of Scott Pilgrim and the Expendables all over comics and video game websites and message boards. There’s absolutely no reason to compare such different films other than Expendables made money, Pilgrim didn’t, and now everyone has to know how unfair that is because Scott Pilgrim is such a great film.

And, in fairness it was a great film, but that’s mostly due to Edgar Wright’s stylistic choices. It’s not a movie without flaws, the biggest being horribly miscast leads. Mary Elizabeth Winstead still has too much of a normal upbrining in her to convincingly play a modern hipster chick. Scott Pilgrim in the comic had tons of personality and Michael Cera, in the movie, brings virtually none of that to the screen. His acting is almost robotic, like he’s just reciting the preset emotional response to a given situation in scene.

This is sad because the other actors were mostly excellent, particularly Ellen Wong. She brought so much charisma and charm to her role that it took me out of the movie at the end when Cera chooses Winstead over her. It didn’t make any sense.

I happily read these books and I like the movie alright. I simply dispute his outlandish claim that it has a higher commitment to its visual presentation than any other film this CENTURY. the purpose of Avatar was to present its visual effects and show what could be done with the technology. As a result, almost every aspect of the film was tailored to showcase that technology. As another poster pointed out, Sin City is also an excellent example of a film with a higher commitment to its visuals.

I don’t care if you liked or disliked any of these films. At no time was this discussion about the overall merits of any of them. That I dispute Bill’s claim is not a commentary on those people who liked the flick.

@posters: Please don’t allow so much of your momentary identity to be wrapped up with a flick you like that you have to defend against any claim that isn’t entirely praising it.

@Bill: I have since gone back and read your entire post. Your spot on regarding the expendables.

Comparing Scott Pilgrim to Shawshank Redemption is insulting to that (admittedly slightly overrated) film.

You seem to have completely missed the point of my post. Shawshank did horribly in theaters (it made like $30 million or so) and has its current reputation based off of critical reviews and repeated showings on TNT. One can easily imagine Scott Pilgrim having a similar post box office life, given that it has a similar high level of critical reviews. (Scott Pilgrim’s level of reviews is slightly lower, but it’s also somewhat less universal in its appeal than Shawshank.)

I’m not comparing the quality of the movies (I’d actually need to watch the Shawshank Redemption to do that), but to make a prediction on what Scott Pilgrim’s post box office life will be like, using a few comparable movies to provide a guideline.

Bill @”I guess we’ll never know how I would truly feel, due to my persistent Arrested Development boner.”

Better call the doctor Bill, since the show’s been cancelled for years it’s probably lasted over 4 hours! :b

The critical reception of Scott Pilgrim has not and will not match that of Shawshank. That film was nominated for an Academy Award and has been almost universally regarded as a great film since its box office release. On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim has garnered some praise from fringe critics and gotten favorable write-ups in mainstream media.

If your point is that Scott Pilgrim may survive as more than the box office flop that it currently is, well you’re right. However, as I said, if it is to have any lasting success it will be as a cult film like The Princess Bride.

On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim has garnered some praise from fringe critics and gotten favorable write-ups in mainstream media.

Scott Pilgrim has an 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (79% from top critics), and an 8.3 rating on IMDB. It’s not as well reviewed as Shawshank, but it’s clearly very well reviewed. (For example, it has much, much better ratings than Speed Racer, another film that’s been compared with it.)

Moreover, you don’t seem to realize that Shawshank absolutely bombed in theaters, which is where the comparison comes from. Boxofficemojo has it making $28 million in theaters, despite the Oscar nominations.

[…] Perpetual PostAn open letter to 'Twilight' fans about 'Scott Pilgrim'HitFix (blog)Scott Pilgrim vs. The ExpendablesComic Book ResourcesTriValley Central -Springfield Business Journal -Dover Postall 752 […]

“Is that your opinion or is that fact.”

I’m so tired of people getting upset because someone is confident in their opinions. Even T is intelligent enough to know that his opinions are just that. Don’t get all defensive, just because he doesn’t feel the need to qualify his point of view with disclaimers.

Even T is intelligent enough to know that his opinions are just that.

“Only people who didn’t read the comics or have an extreme hard-on for Arrested Development could believe that” is not a statement of value, it is a statement of fact. It’s one thing to disagree over the value of something, it is a whole another thing to diagnose why someone believes something, and to deligitimise their opinions on the basis of their illicit origins.

Wait, opinions aren’t facts?

Actually, I have no particular interest in seeing either one of these movies, although I might see if the gf wants to see Scott Pilgrim when it comes to the cheap theater in a few weeks.

But isn’t SP already a kind of cult film, that the studio just happened to want to be a mainstream film? There seems to be the built in audience of people who love the SP books and others of that generation that grew up with the video game aesthetic, but it’s probably a “cult” size. It just didn’t make as much money as the old guys blow shit up movie.

But mostly why I posted was to make it known how disturbed I was to read, more than once, about Bill’s man parts. Ew. And I have no idea what he looks like, just, ew.

“Chewing the scenery like Matter-Eater Lad”…hee hee. I bet that’s a better line than anything in “The Expendables.”

P.S. Is this another case where we have to read the whole posting before commenting on it? Man, you guys are tough!

The first cult movie that (I think) went nowhere at the box office but had strong niche appeal that I thought of after seeing Scott Pilgrim (*huff huff* sorry for the long, awkward sentence) was Repo Man. 85% of moviegoers may not get it, but those that do will be watching it for years to come.

I thought Cera did a decent job. He sounded and acted differently than the comic book version does in my head, but he still worked. My wife liked it, too, but had no love for Ramona. Although the actress didn’t go all out in the role, I think part of the problem is the character. The Ramona of the comics failed to hold my interest, and was more of an object to be won than someone I could care about. I wanted Scott to win her for his sake, not because they made a great couple.

The opening Sex Bob-Omb song sounded like a typical bad garage band, which fit perfectly. I think the whole song was one simple riff over a hard drum beat. The lyrics to the second song they played was hilarious. The music was spot-on throughout.

i really think the poor box office has nothing to with the comics. Were talking about a movie where the best possable outcome is watching Michel Cerra get laid. I don’t want to see that. And I can’t be the only one

[…] Comic Book Movie: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, of course. I reviewed it here, but since I love to repeat myself, I’ll mention that it’s a very nichey movie that is […]

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