A Tale of Two Movies

This weekend I saw two new movies. They were about as divergent as you can get. Big bloated action movie vs. quirky, snarky video game movie. Aging mega stars vs. indy kids. Jokes about therapy & cauliflower ear vs. jokes about Vegans and gay promiscuity. Sadly, it's clear that the bloated and forgetable The Expendables was the victor over the imaginative and resonant (at least with me) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Scott Pilgrim has a very easy story – he has to beat her 7 evil exes to get with his dream girl. It really doesn't get much more streamlined than that. Each ex is like a boss fight in a game (including one that comes back in a tougher form when you beat them the first time..) and the fights are all cleverly done. Not everyone is straight fisticuffs. One is a very cool battle of the bands, another a Bollywood musical.

The look of the film is amazing. Both the art direction and the effects. It's saying something that Michael Cera looks like he could kick ass in this film.

The film made me think of Amelie or Pan's Labyrinth. A small indie movie with modern graphics and effects. The movie is beautiful, often times looking like the graphic novel come to life. It is also a treasure trove of pop culture and video game references. It is a movie of it's time. In one strange choice, a short section of the movie is literally a Seinfeld reference (complete with trademark music and camera angles) that will be super confusing to viewers in about 20 years.

In contrast, The Expendables is cookie cutter film-making. The screenplay has every beat you would expect from an 80s action movie (except the black sidekick dying, shockingly) and just about nothing surprising (except for Stallone's face. Yikes!)  It really fell flat with me, especially when compared to the energy and attitude of Scott Pilgrim.

Sadly, it also made $25 million more than Scott Pilgrim. In fact, people are already writing "what went wrong" pieces about Scott Pilgrim. That's too bad. In my opinion, the biggest issue was our expectations. If the film were treated like an indy, it's modest $10.5 million would be seen as a success. It shouldn't be compared to The Expendables (although that is inevitable) but to something like Kick Ass (which, alas, also tanked).

I know that if you went back in time and showed both films to a kid in the 80s, he would immediately connect with Expendables and be really confused by Scott Pilgrim. Same with someone 20 years from now probably. But I also know that they would immediately recognize the wacky inventiveness of Scott Pilgrim, and the energy and love that reside in the film. The Expendables just can't match that.

On a strange side note, the best acting in either film was (shockingly) from The Expendables, where Mickey Rourke once again proved himself an amazing actor. The few minutes he is on screen are magic, and he brings an inner life and pain to his character that makes you wish he were around longer. Especially compared to the other clowns in the film who think acting is making faces as they punch someone.

Last 5 posts by Ezra


  1. shawn says

    And if it cost around $20MM, it would be a success. But it was a studio release, not an indie, that cost at least $60MM. So, oddly enough, factual reporting about the business of movie-making focused on Scott Pilgrim's actual ROI, not the ROI of some different movie we seem to think it should have been.

  2. PEBKAC says

    Actually the bigger problem from where I stand is a profound lack of Jason Statham in Scott Pilgrim. ;)

  3. Tom says

    The marketing for each movie has a lot to do with the first week's box office receipts. The market concept for The Expendables was "all the great action movie guys in one movie" — a siren call that was almost impossible to resist if you ever enjoyed an action movie.

    Whereas the marketing for Scott Pilgrim had a goofy looking Michael Cera shooting fireballs while getting beat up by the guy from Push, and some goofy looking purple haired girl. Unless you followed the comic book and knew it to be awesome, you'd probably pass over Scott Pilgrim and go with your explosion-loving gut.

  4. MadRocketScientist says

    I'd never heard of Scott Pilgrim before I saw the trailer for the movie, but the trailer was all I needed to see to know that SPvTW was gonna be something special. Seeing as how I grew up on video games from the 80's & 90's, the movie had all sorts of fun references & allusions.

    Hopefully it'll do a steady business instead of an opening weekend spike, and then kick but in DVD sales.

    I haven't seen The Expendables yet, but I'm certain it'll be a fun action movie.

  5. mojo says

    Haven't seen either, yet, but I'll probably go see The Expendables rather than take a ride on the Gen-X express to Whackyland.

    Mainly because I'm not all that young anymore, and the sight of teen/twenty-something sturm und drang leaves me feeling slightly bored. On the other hand, I'm always up for a couple of hours of old-fashioned kick-assin' and such. Good clean fun, with explosions!