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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - An Observation


You know…


All right fine, I’m just going to say it: THIS MOVIE SUCKS! What in the HELL was Edgar Wright thinking with this!?

A friend of mine finally sat me down and forced me to watch it. It honestly didn’t interest me. Even as a pretty damn hardcore gamer (I’ve beaten I Wanna Be The Guy, though only on Hard, and I’ve taken down the Demi-Fiend in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga) , this movie just looked dumb. And I was right. It was really dumb.

I’m going to talk about the things I actually did like, first. Item one: the fight scenes rocked. Peng Zhang is proving himself to be the second-best fight choreographer in the industry, right behind Yuen Woo Ping of The Matrix and just about every Jet Li movie ever made fame. Peng Zhang did Ninja Assassin, a terrible “movie” which however had some of the most creative and interesting fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Kick-Ass and ­The Transporter 2 are some of Zhang’s other films. His choreography coupled with Edgar Wright’s direction created dynamic, interesting, and entertaining fight sequences which were easily the best part of the movie.

Some of the supporting cast was really good. Chris Evans was gloriously hammy. Mark Webber was perfect as beleaguered singer Steven Stills. Keiran Culkin was hilariously understated as Scott’s roommate Wally. A surprisingly badass turn by Mae Whitman (the voice of Katara in Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender). Disaster of a Superman Brandon Routh managed to actually be really awesome. There was a fantastic cameo by Clifton Collins, Jr. (Boondock Saints 2: All Saint’s Day) and Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as the Vegan Police. And the normally annoying Jason Schwartzman was phenomenally smug as Gideon Graves, the “final boss” of the movie, including a pretty much perfect fight scene.

And oh yeah, there were succubi early on. What can I say? I have a thing for demon chicks.

And that’s the good stuff.

You notice how I left the main, well, everybody out? Yeah…

The title character is a douche. Which I get was part of the point of the script, being Scott growing up and becoming less of a douche. But here’s the thing, even as you’re supposed to like him near the end, Michael Cera sucks out all likeability. He’s like a black hole. It’s a testament to Peng Zhang’s skill as a fight choreographer that Cera looked even remotely cool at any point during this movie.

Alternately, we have Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the female lead Ramona. I just don’t buy Winstead as a romantic lead. As evidenced between this and Live Free or Die Hard, Winstead’s destiny seems obviously as an action star. She has a great, deep voice (her role in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof notwithstanding), she can do a great death glare, and she looked very natural holding and using a weapon. However, her softer scenes were just… uninteresting. She was flat.

In neither case did I actually buy them as a couple. This is a big problem; if you can’t stand the leads, the romance just dies. And when your movie is ostensibly a romance, you need to have likable romantic leads. Winstead was only believable when she was annoyed, snarking, afraid, or in combat, while Cera was just… Cera. What’s worse is that the love triangle was rounded out by Ellen Wong, whose performance seemed to be channeling that of Kathy Bates in Misery but in reverse. Pathetic and ignorable when shy and quiet, memorable and scary when angry, and able to switch between the two on a dime. She was actually interesting (comparatively)!

The final female characters were… they were there. And if they didn’t get so much screen time, they’d probably be entirely forgettable.

The direction was completely out of line. I know the world of Scott Pilgrim is supposed to be colorful, but there is such a thing as too far, and this movie’s visuals were WAY too far. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are two of my favorite comedies. But in trying to keep with the sensibilities of the comics, he’s sacrificed the tolerances of his audience. It is a filmmaker’s job when adapting from another medium to make it watchable, and in this particular project, Edgar Wright ignored this job. The colors were blindingly bright at times, the constant text effects were grating, every flashing light and quick comic-panel-like cut was an assault on the senses. I will sometimes say that a movie “gives me a headache,” as a way of saying it’s stupid or obnoxious. While I feel these adjectives do fit the movie, the aggressive colors and directing style literally did give me a headache.

When a project causes a viewer literal physical pain, there is something wrong with the project that needs to be addressed.

The game references were constant. Constant and overbearing. They just wouldn’t go away. At first they were funny. Then they got old. Do we really need to see a pee meter? Do we need the constant DDR references? Though I will say, the girl named Richter using the Belmont whip was really awesome. Go play Rondo of Blood!

The music… was not my kind of thing, except for the tracks originally written by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy II battle theme) and Koji Kondo (Legend of Zelda theme). I admit, I was kind of looking forward to the battle between the Katyanagi Twins and Scott’s band, but… apparently they decided that actually hearing the supposedly badass musician twins’ Electronica music was unnecessary and did not need to be in this movie. Instead we got that obnoxious Beck-composed monstrosity that plays throughout the entire movie. Though I will say it’s awesome that the principal actors did in fact learn the instruments they were supposed to have played.

This one is probably a nitpick, but it honestly sent me up a wall. The camera work. You see, Mary Elizabeth Winstead actually did her own stunts in the movie (another point for her as a burgeoning action star). However, in both of her big fights were obvious “Stunt Shots.” Basically, action directors are trained in such a way so as to avoid shooting faces so the stunt doubles are harder to notice. So during several moments, most notably a very impressive wire-work jumping flip, I muttered “stunt shot.” Turns out, no, that was actually Winstead. Directors, if your actors are doing their own stunts, SHOW IT OFF! Give them the credit they are due!

Look, this movie isn’t a total disaster. There are definitely positive elements. But this movie should have been a lot better than it was, especially in the casting department. The actors involved deserve better, and the audience this movie is targeting deserves better. If you want a gaming-reference movie, go watch Dark Maze Studio’s Press Start directed by Ed Glaser. It’s actually funny, despite being MUCH lower in budget. You want a gamer romance? Well… I’m not entirely convinced that such a blend can exist. Feel free to send suggestions! You want to see awesome Peng Zhang fight scenes? Go watch Ninja Assassin. Yes, it too has unlikable leads and a stupid romance plot, but that movie at least knows it’s about ninjas killing each other, and knows what to concentrate on. And if you want more Scott Pilgrim than just the comic book? Play the XBLA/PSN game. For fans of Scott Pilgrim and old-school 16-bit beat ‘em ups alike, that game OWNS.

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