Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

20 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (movie review)

Last weekend, three movies catering to three separate demographics came out: The Expendables was sold to manly men and those who want to be seen as such; Eat Pray *snore* was marketed to women and those who don’t mind being seen as in touch with their emotions (as long as it happens in nearly complete darkness); and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which had some overlap with The Expendables audience, was mainly for males who remember what it was like to play Nintendo games in the ‘80s (and very slightly less to males who have played video games since then).

Scott Pilgrim came in not third but fifth, behind the second week of The Other Guys and the fifth week of Inception. It pulled in about $10 million, which thankfully did put it $3 million above the second week of Step It Up 3D

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World posterOh, God, that’s depressing. Because you should see Scott Pilgrim and see it now, especially if you fit in the movie’s demographic.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a slacker who has just graduated high school, and he’s recovering a devastating breakup (a year in the past) by dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a high-school girl, in a relationship that hasn’t yet progressed to handholding. His friends, sister, and bandmates mock and scorn him for it, but they think even less of him when he becomes obsessed with hipster delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after she skates into his dreams and his life. Soon, he has to get the courage to dump Knives for Ramona … and fight Ramona’s seven evil exes in order to keep dating her.

In the comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the fights are heavily inspired by video games, with defeated villains shattering into coins and producing power ups. Director Edgar Wright has adapted O’Malley’s video-game version of real life onto the real screen while simultaneously translating the print version of Scott Pilgrim onto the big screen — at many times, the movie seemed almost like a cinematic comic book, complete with larger-than-life action and comic-book sound effects and layouts. Wright mixes all this together to make a movie that is visually distinct; one of the best arguments to see this movie in the theater is that no other movie looks like this one, and the action scenes deserve to be seen on a large screen.

Wright made the decision to stick with the main plot of the comics, and it turned out well; in the second half, the action deviates from the source material, but given that they didn’t know what the ending was going to be (the final volume of O’Malley’s Pilgrim was released after the movie was filmed), it turned out well, as with an eye-catching fight scene between Scott and the second evil ex, an actor who sends his stunt doubles after Scott.

The movie manages to be funny, exciting, and occasionally touching at different times. The soundtrack is electric, loud, and gets the blood pumping; at times it fills central roles in the movie’s plot. Cera does his usual shy, mopy young boy-man act, and it fits Pilgrim well. In addition, audiences get the bizarre image of Cera as an ass-kicking action hero, which is just as incongruous as when Scott fights on the comics page.

Kieran Culkin, who plays Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells, is the standout in the cast, getting most of the good one-liners and ending up as Scott’s personal guru, motivating him to shape up so that he can grow up / get the girl. Alison Pill does an excellent job as Scott’s acerbic bandmate Kim Pine; you can almost feel her contempt for Scott (and everyone else) radiating from the screen. Anna Kendrick doesn’t have much screen time as Scott’s sister, Stacy, but she shines in her brief moments. The evil ex-boyfriends are excellent, especially Chris Evans as action star Lucas Lee and Brandon Routh as superpowered vegan Todd Ingram. Kaita Saitou and Shota Saito look the part of the Katayanagi twins, but they don’t have many (any?) lines. Jason Schwartzman, as main villain Gideon Gordon Graves, plays the smug bastard character to the hilt, although he suffers a little during the action sequences — a bit of a problem given that his fight with Scott is the climactic scene.

The fourth evil ex — Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), the only non-boyfriend — is a bit of a problem, however. Her lines are leaden at best; bi-furious? Really? Someone liked that? Her fight with Scott is easily the weakest of the contests, from its setup to staging to anticlimactic (no pun intended) resolution. The movie isn’t going to get any GLAAD awards either, falling into easy stereotypes — Wallace’s promiscuity, Roxy’s relative weakness as an opponent despite her combativeness / masculinity (a combination of negative gender and sexual orientation stereotypes), Ramona’s “experimentation” — that are unusual for a movie so gay inclusive. All this is in the comics, however, and it thankfully avoids the final volume’s surprise revelation of a male character’s homosexuality — and by “surprise,” I mean “random,” and by “random,” I mean “intensely stupid.”

And what of the woman they’re all fighting over? Ah, Ramona. Well, Ramona never is developed much, remaining the same throughout the movie. To be fair, I never really saw much development of the character in the source material either, but given how many plotlines were jettisoned — in particular that of Envy Adams (Brie Larson), Scott’s ex, whose role was pared down to almost nothing — the movie had to do something with Ramona. It didn’t, and Ramona is a quest object. This isn’t a big problem, and certainly not “misogynistic,” a word that gets thrown around far too often. Many movies have female characters that the male protagonists fight for; in this case, Ramona’s character may keep the movie from being a classic, but it’s not the worst flaw for a movie.

However, Scott and Ramona’s “romance” is. I never understood what Ramona saw in Scott, either in the books or movie, other than his overall simplicity and a willingness to fight for her. Scott’s attraction to a pretty girl he literally can’t get out of his head makes more sense, but given the beatings he takes for her, it would make more sense if he started questioning his feelings earlier. Winstead tries to play it cool, sexy, and slightly emotionally damaged, but she’s not quite Zooey Deschanel, the winsome, distant hipster chick that men in movies seem to kill for. Even Scott seems confused whether he should be attracted to her by the end.

These flaws are not quibbles; they’re real problems. Still, they don’t keep this from being an enjoyable movie — a very enjoyable movie. It helps to have the right mindset when you come through the door: this is a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, that sees the world through a Nintendo prism. It manages not only to be an excellent comic book movie but one of the best video game movies. It has a rocking soundtrack. It looks completely different from everything else in the multiplex and everything on DVD. It is, at times, hilarious. It isn’t a mindbender like Inception (nor is it as good), but it is a very enjoyable way to spend two hours.

Rating: Scott Pilgrim Scott Pilgrim Scott Pilgrim Scott Pilgrim (4 of 5)

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