Monday, April 8, 2013

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a movie reviewvie

at 4:39 PM
Scott Pilgrim is a property I've always kept at a foot's distance. It may seem like something I would like, as I'm silly and alternative (don't know what that means) and I like a video game, but things that seem like something I should like often turn out to be things I don't like. Let us not forget the lesson of Cabin in the Woods (the lesson, for those who forget, is that I didn't like that movie very much, even if it was supposed to be the second coming of horror-comedy). The problem is that I am actually invested in the things I like, which makes me a really difficult target audience to hit. I'm the kind of snob who's less likely to be happy that you made a reference than to correct you on it.

Back to Pilgrimmage. I watched the Michael Cera vehicle this weekend and my reaction ranged from giddy elation to exasperated disregard. The movie's strong point is undoubtedly the hyper-flashy crunchy-time blowouts with Ramona's Seven Evil 'Exed' Exes. That's one o' mine. From the Bollywood musical-number/battle to the climactic katana main-boss katana duel, the only falter in the action is a weirdly nonsensical pseudo-musical CGI-monster showdown somewhere in between. Though the fight scenes lack the finesse imbued by professional martial artists, there's enough variety, choreography, and SFX emphasis to delight any kung fu, superhero, or video game fan. A particular favorite is the Superman/DBZ-derived clash starring an evil super-powered vegan who is defeated through some trickery so hacky that Groucho Marx would roll his eyes.

Speaking of "clash", the video game stylings range from boring name-dropping to inspired inspiration. Direct references like rock bands named after Clash at Demonhead and Crash 'n' the Boys don't warrant much more than an indifferent shrug (unless I missed it, what the hell did the bands have to do with the corresponding games?), but design elements like a brawler-fight against a dozen skateboard-wielding clones (they're stuntmen, explaining why they look identical and wear the same clothes!) make me want to hand out the high fives. The problem is that the creators weren't confident enough to rely on these subtler structural elements for gamer-resonance, feeling the need to pad them with Zelda music and pixellated swords - just so YOU know that THEY know that they're hip to the whole game thing. In terms of mass-marketability, you can't really fault this decision. Throw in enough junk and everyone feels like they're in on the joke. Then again, you ostracize your supposed target audience. I can't imagine any knowledgeable gamer feeling anything but pandered to for half of these scenes (especially the aforementioned cartoon-godzilla-battle, which has seemingly nothing to offer the video game extrapolation). It's all in good fun, and honestly it wouldn't bother me if not for excellent scenes that do totally 'get' it, like the hero screwing up the final stage, then using a 1-Up and some prescient hindsight to get it right on a second run.
hey, it's actually the art from the game!
Unfortunately, for every such clever idea, we have to sit through three textbook rom-com scenes buoyed only by... I dunno what. And that's the problem at the bottom of this milkshake: Scott Pilgrim is a teenage romantic comedy. Don't let the video games or rock 'n' roll music get you all tricked up. If you don't like the peculiar blend of love and laughs that has become so fundamental to our filmic culture, you're going to have a hard time getting into Scott Pilgrim. Boyfriends like me will get a kick out of the fights, and boyfriends with bad taste might bite for the musical performances, which I'm told have something to do with Beck. I don't know him - is that short for Becker? At best, the kinetic highs carry a mere twenty minutes of the movie. The rest is Juno or, I dunno, Spray Anything. I think they hoped the action and music would elevate the piece to a Streets of Fire level (lol almost typed "Streets of Rage"), but they missed the bombast and ridiculous drama by trying to ground the romance. Plus the scuzzy, Stones-y rock on the soundtrack can't ever match the preposterously epic grandeur of '80s Meatloaf-style power ballads.

I'm not dismissing it outright just because it belongs to a genre I don't normally enjoy. I like a few Bill-Murray-centric romantic comedies, such as whatever that one in Japan and the Groundhog thing. I guess someone might debate whether those are proper rom-com, but the point is, cliche isn't enough to prevent good plot or thematic material. Scott Pilgrim has exactly one plot thread and one character - Scott Pilgrim, if you can believe - whose arc I don't even really understand. Knives and Ramona, the lady-loves, don't get enough screen-time or dialogue to be anything beyond basic figments of Scott's internal dilemma, which appears to be that... he's immature? I dunno man that's pretty broad. I just don't know if I can get into that. The level of growth Scott experiences is more what I expect from a sitcom episode; more a lesson-learned than a coming of age. "Don't break up with a girl without telling her" - beyond that, everything worked out pretty effortlessly. Luckily Scott was a bigger badass than any of the supposedly well-trained bad guys, which seems to skip the entire point of the Evilexes: that he's not ready for them. Ramona and her Exes seemed more troubled and worthy of examination, but instead we get a lot of "life sucks" and "I'm running from my past" dismissal while Scott punches his way to victory. Two of seven Exes don't even have any dialogue! Honestly I feel like using the word "character" is generous. They can all be summed up in less than a clause: "gay roommate", "bitter ex-girlfriend", "wants to be a rockstar", etc. Maybe they get more development in the graf-nov, but it's not here in the film.
This encapsulates what I took away from the movie
Is Scott Pilgrim worth watching? Well, it goes by surprisingly quickly, so you won't feel like you're sitting through too much junk - then again, you could just Youtube the fight scenes. They aren't exactly revolutionary, but they key in on game tropes like nothing else that comes to mind. And damn they're colorful. The last fight-scenes I remember being this colorful were in Hero (now THERE's a movie you should go watch, again, and again). Romance fans won't find any depth whatsoever, but indie comedy types may laugh more than I did. I grazed over this, but the comedy didn't land with me either - I laughed between two and four times in the 112 minutes. Admittedly, I don't really do Michael Cera, unless it's Arrested Development. So I guess that's a thumbs down. That one's for you, Ebert!

Trivia time! Bleeping out F-bombs was used as a joke, but a joke that felt distinctly like an excuse to censor the movie and get it that coveted PG-13 rating. It's kinda starting to make me depressed how Hollywood does this. Could we at least stop giving out R's just because of a fucking word? Also, Ramona was played by Die Hard's daughter and I didn't find her (or any of the other women) attractive here.

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