17 August 2010

First Impressions: Expendables and Scott Pilgrim Double Feature

This weekend was a treat - why see just one of these great films when you can see two? Also, why pay for both films when it's so, so easy to sneak into the later showing? As such, I treated myself to both movies at the Theater last Friday night, certainly without paying. I of course then felt it natural to smear my Impressions of both films together.

Now, I saw The Expendables (2010) first, followed by Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). I was fully expecting a harsh difference between films, a true void between Sly's non-stop violence thrill ride and another installment of Mike Ceratops' mumbly whiny classic role. What most surprised me then, was the simple fact that much of the action in Scott Pilgrim, despite the scrawny nerds taking part, was far more entertaining and certainly more investing than that of The Expendables. Let's go deeper, starting with Sly:

Misleading Cameos and Okay Action:

There's a few obvious things that stick out immediately concerning The Expendables that most other Intranet Reviews have covered: 1) The film was sold as a Schwarzenegger/Willis/Stallone Legendary Team-Up Movie. Anyone who pays a lick of attention to Film News knew it wasn't, but their one scene is one of the best in the film and it's great to see a bit of antagonism between Arnie and Sly's characters. Bring Dutch back full as a main bad for a Sequel? Fuck yeah.

2) CGI Blood. Looks bloody awful. Same as in Rambo (2008), this shit wasn't necessary to heighten the violence instead taking us out of our suspension of disbelief instead of immersing ourselves in the carnage. I mean, if Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003) succeeded without cheap-looking CGBlood, what the hell is it doing here.

That brings me to 3) The Action's not ground-breaking. Speaking of The Big Q, Kill Bill was probably one of the first really violent films I saw in theaters. The violence in that film is so unbelievably over-the-top and played to extreme insanity that I think it's dulled me to the day on other movies that expressly try to be as violent. The thing is, even Rambo wasn't that bad (Sly rips a throat [done better in MacGruber {2010}] and rocks the rest of the Burmese with a .50 Cal. C'mon, it's even cheap to do this shit in Halo), especially when placed among some other Ultra-Violent films of the past five years such as Crank (2006), Shoot 'Em Up (2007) and one of my personal favourites, Smokin' Aces (2006). There's nothing really jaw-dropping or unexpected here. The only eye-catching piece is "Wow, Jet Li fighting Dolph Lundgren!" or "Hey now Sly is fighting Steve Austin!" or "Okay, Jason Statham just stabbed Eric Roberts...wait who cares?" The film seeks to emulate 80s Action Movies (what is with 2010's obsession with the 80s? Hot Tub Time Machine, The A-Team, The Karate Kid and MacGruber?) and that's really exactly what it does. This isn't really a terrible thing for fans of 80s movies, but in general The Expendables tends to think it's a bit too serious than it needs to be. Sly did this shit in Rambo and Rocky Balboa (2006) too. He plays this weird, stiff yet sensitive righteous killer. And how the hell did they plant all those bombs in the castle without being seen? Who fucking knows.

What actually saves this film for the most part is Terry Crews' AA-12, which admittedly, is the most awesome fucking gun in the world. Although Terry doesn't actually even do any fighting (he's not an action star!) he's definitely one of the most badass in the flick. That and Randy Couture's cauliflower ear. Great. And what the hell is up with Mickey Rourke? Did he just come literally directly from the Iron Man 2 (2010) set? Identical make-up, hairstyle, even facial hair. I think they might even have some of the same tats. What the hell? Amongst the other "Men on a Mission" films this year, though, I rank it higher than The Losers (2010) but still underneath The A-Team. Amen.

Indie Quirk and Constant Giggles:

So that's The Expendables. Scott Pligrim vs. The World is about on the complete other side of the spectrum. It's a light-hearted romp through young love that plays with the conventions of what film, music and video games could do together. Really though, this movie can't be understood by anyone over the age of 25. It's such a Youth Zeitgeist film. The cast is incomparable, featuring every hipster actor of our generation.

In a way though, it's also pretty timeless. Scott Pilgrim never uses a cell phone (although all his friends do), instead resorting to phones both in booths and houses. The video game motifs are constantly classic, relying on old fighters and platformers rather than say, MMOPRGS or Sandbox (how the hell could you incorporate Contemporary Video Game Tropes into Film? Current Video Games might as well be Films!). The Love Story is of course there, actually dealing with Puppy Love at first sight vs. True Dream Love. Right until the very end with that one. Of course, just like in real life, the two are on in the same.

There's not a lot of drop-dead laughs here, but this is one of the most consistent giggling-inducing films I've ever seen. There is a non-stop giggle stream accompanying the quirks and goofs here. It plays that fine line between realistic characters in absolutely outrageous situations. The reality of Scott Pilgrim is bendable, reminiscent of a video game yet the characters remain true and the gags secure a solid investment in attention and passion. Whether it's Seinfeld Riffs, Extra Lifes, solid fast-paced editing or even a simple Tom Jane cameo, Scott Pilgrim brings the hot fire.

Also it's a joy to see Michael Cera outwitting both Captain America and Superman back-to-back. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a babe. Despite the fact that Young Neil looks a lot like Justin Bieber, which freaked me out, this film's cast is incredible. There are enough characters over the top enough to generate the requisite silly tone but still enough grounded characters (Anna Kendrick, super-cutie comes to mind) to bring the insanity down a bit. Ceratops is doing well this year playing against type a bit, even using his Accepted Persona to his advantage in Youth in Revolt (2010) as well as displaying a perfect straddle between the confidence needed in Scott Pilgrim's action and romance antics and the unreadiness needed for the more tender moments. Hoorah.

So, back to back, head to head Scott Pilgrim is a far more interesting film. It's thrilling, romantic, action-packed and instantly re-watchable, Scottie kicks Sly's ass this week. The Expendables has a handful of good moments and is actually a well structured film, if not limited by its admissible testosterone shot to the balls subject matter. When searching for a Man's Soul this week, 'nuff said. Go see Scottie kick the World's Ass.

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