I’m in the Middle Part of the Expendables/Scott Pilgrim Venn Diagram

The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both came out this weekend. Scott Pilgrim found me as my time in college was nearing its end, and Scott’s journey into adulthood hit home with me. His hard won lessons about dealing with baggage and letting go of the past spoke to me in a realer way than having someone else telling me that “this soon will pass.”

I really wish these books would have come out when I was 19 and could have really used the advice, but that’s a story for another time that I’ll never tell.

Bryan O’Malley doing a project that was undeniably him and not a response to his race or identity spoke to me as a wannabe writer and a hopeful future creative type, pointed out that despite being young with only few life experiences that you could “write what you know” in a new and unique way. He took growing from the boy you are and into the man you want to become by miring it in pop culture and created the metaphor of physically dealing with baggage and problems as videogame fights and made the coming of age story interesting again.

Class of '87 Debate Society.

And then the Expendables is what I like when I’m straight and not a whiny pussy.

These coming out on the same weekend is interesting because both are based around subjects I geek out on pretty hard; videogames and comics versus action movies, and both films are built around the conceits of those particular subjects. They are laden with nods, lifts, and in-jokes on top of their full-on embrace of clichés and genre staples in trying to make something new.

One of them did it really well and the other didn’t.

Okay, right off the bat, I liked both movies, but I loved one and only liked the other.

Straight-up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was better than the Expendables.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Expendables was bad, but it didn’t accomplish all of its goals in the commanding way that Scott Pilgrim did.

Scary for a lot of different reasons.

First off, if you’re going to assemble team of actors like this, the movie has to be a “Men on a Mission” movie. The Magnificent Seven, the Great Escape, Guns of the Navarrone, the Dirty Dozen are all movies about something so big, that not one, not two, not even three heroes can deal with it, so an all star squad is put together. Now, you can have side-plots and mini-arcs throughout the movie, but the entire point has to be working toward that common goal be it escaping from a POW camp, preparing a town of peasants to defend themselves, wiping out nearly all of Mexico, or assassinating every Nazi officer that ever lived, but the goal from the beginning of the movie must be actively pursued and not just sort of show up in Act 3.

There was no actual work done to take the island. No one had to actively play up a specialty or type, they were each a natural disaster in the exact same way at the end. Sly and Stath easily showed up, got away, and then easily showed up again, and blew everything up. All Terry Crews had to do was hang out, get on the plane, and be the raddest fucking dude who will ever exist.

Man, I want matching kevlar.

The wiping out of that entire army and giving the people back their power was more of a plot point and not the actual plot. It was Sly and Stath and a little bit of Li kind of doing his bit, and then everyone else gets to be in Act 3 and blow shit up. I have no problem with that. I would totally do that. But as a response to the recent slate of action movies, and the final word on the golden age of action movies, it fails. It over-complicates not with complex storylines but by just adding enough simple things to obscure the point which should be the mission.

Second, they shot it like a modern movie. The fights were close up and done with shaky camera which makes sense when it’s Orlando Bloom, but Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li are both trained fighters with extensive backgrounds in screen combat, so pull the camera back, damn it. You don’t think Steven Austin and Randy Couture know how to throw a punch? Steve Austin faked massive staged fights in front of thousands of people weekly. Let us see the fucking action, like in the old days, when you showed every explosion three times. Let’s see the two brutes throwing haymakers until someone falls over. Let the Matrix and the Bourne Identity be their movies and you be yours.

Probably the last thing you want to see coming after you from a truck.

Having said all that, I cannot describe to you guys how excited I am that Jet Li used this movie to formally announce that he is ready to start doing “I’m too old for this shit” roles. His entire motivation was basically “I’m too old to be running around kicking people in the face. If you want me to continue snapping spines and karate-chopping jugulars I need more money.” Do you understand what this means? It means that my screenplay about a street-wise old black detective and an old Chinese secret agent who’s seen it all fighting the Yakuza as they encroach on Chinatown starring Danny Glover and Jet Li is that much closer to happening.

You’re welcome, America.

There wasn’t a whole lot of acting in this movie. Everyone basically played larger-than-life versions of themselves, so there’s a very real chance that Terry Crews is a dangerous psychopath and he should be watched at all times by the government.

Boo.

Finally, Dolph Lundgren is still terrifying. The man is gigantic. When Stallone is in his truck looking over the mission, Lundgren’s head fills more than the entire window. It’s like when the T-Rex leans over to get an eyeful of Alan Grant in Jurassic Park. How is he not the villain in every movie?

This really just a waste of Nic Cage's time and talents.

They used that damn weiner kid for the bad guy in Ghost Rider when they had access to Dolph Lundgren? Is God taking a break, or what?

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on the other hand, wore its sources on its sleeve, but it managed to hit all the buttons it was supposed to, by making the technology work for the style rather than adapting the style to the new technology.

I read in an interview how Edgar Wright basically just shot his storyboards. He didn’t do close, middle, and long shots to mix and match, but much like a comic artist doesn’t draw multiple versions of every panel, this was a deliberate shooting style, growing organically with story beats like a comic series would when it hits its rhythm. The story, which is boy meets girl and boy must fight for girl, is the oldest story ever told, but because the movie just kind of grows instead of feeling assembled, helps the fact you know how the story ends go down easier, because it feels natural. The ending is earned, not given.

The videogame references are obvious with the Street Fighter ‘KO!’ and the ‘VS.’ graphics but the subtle Sonic ring noises filtered here and there or the music cues are what really pull the audience into the world. This attention to detail is the difference between acknowledging something and actively adding to the popular culture.

If only having a flaming sword was all you needed to get the girl.

The biggest wild card was star Michael Cera who was typecast by his few wildly successful roles (mostly typecast by me). The guy is funny but Scott Pilgrim, while mainly a manchild, does show some range and is a bundle of nervous energy and well, could Cera be that guy? I think he did it. Scott grew, was unlikeable, was heroic, was spineless, and charismatic. Cera stepped up in a big way, and it’s funny that he managed to showcase his range by taking up a role that he’s typically always asked to play.

So, the subspace highway thing, really important in the comic, not so much in the movie. How'd everyone like that little plot point?

I liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead a lot, making Ramona more complicated than the shiny prize Scott originally saw her as despite having to spend portions of the movie off screen so she could be discussed.  Ramona was a victim and the aggressor all at once, and she could have been an object or a monstrous bitch, but she’s neither.

Not every child actor is an unmitigated disaster. Still, they should all be replaced with puppets.

Kieran Culkin continues to prove why he’s the only Culkin still working.

Ladies and gentlemen, Captain America.

All the Evil Exes were unique, but man Chris Evans and Brandon Routh looked like they were having fun. Evans swung for the fences as a big-headed celebrity and Brandon Routh showed more power and stature as psychic vegan than he ever did as Superman. These two might be my favorite parts of the entire film. Yes, even more than Wallace.

"Milk 'n' eggs, bitch."

Somehow this movie, despite another Iron Man, an action/heist movie by Christopher Nolan, and a Sylvester Stallone directed slobberknocker, had the best choreographed and best shot fight scenes of the entire summer. There was a sense of geography as combatants moved around the battlefield, because you know, where people are and what they’re nearby matters in a fight. Each fight had a unique feel, filming style, color scheme and even the lighting was unique. It showed just as much respect for old school kung fu movies as it did for videogames and movie cues. This is also known as “Matt Catnip” and “the Pudgy Asian’s Kryptonite.”

Both entertained me, it was a weekend well spent at the movies, but when you get down to it, they’re both touching on and cultural hallmarks, but only one actually used those techniques and the other the one just acknowledged them.

At the end of the day, I’ll get both on DVD, but I’ll see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in the theaters again, today. Right now, man. Sly and company can wait a bit.

Matt

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About Nonstop Karate

Created by Chad Quandt and Matt Loman Lonely. Online. Angry due to being online and lonely.

Posted on August 16, 2010, in Comics, Matt Loman, Movies, Pop Culture, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. One of the things I liked about Scott Pilgrim was the fact that, like you said, they actually pulled the camera back and let you watch the fight scenes as they developed instead of giving the camera to a man with arthritis and jerking it to and fro, like in several modern movies. That, and Kieran Culkin alone could have sold the movie. Maybe if they put more of his lines in the ads and less Michael Cera the movie could have gotten more than 1/7 of its budget back this weekend.

    Haven’t seen The Expendables yet, might rent it when it comes out on Netflix considering the Blockbuster stores around my town just liquidated themselves.

  2. The thing that really upset me about the Expendables was a missing scene. I wanted them all to find themselves surrounded, in a jam, so to speak, and then have the sky light up as Mickey Rourke rode in on his chopper, just shooting and fucking everything in sight.

    That would have made everything perfect. “But is it believable?” Fuck your beliefs!

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