Expendable Pilgrim


I was interested in watching both Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The Expendables.

I had to pick one to watch first, knowing it meant I might not get around to the other. Scott Pilgrim won, which in retrospect was the right choice. But when I watched Scott Pilgrim, I wanted to write about it. And based on what I wanted to say about it, I wanted to watch The Expendables, too, and review them both together.

That was the weekend before last. This past weekend, I watched The Expendables. And I watched Scott Pilgrim again.

I rather liked Scott Pilgrim, in case you didn’t get that.

Scott Pilgrim, you see, was a lot of fun. It had a good story, and that went a long way, but it was made well, in a way that was enjoyably whimsical. It was made in a very particular vernacular, to the point where, if you’re unfamiliar with that vernacular, you might as well be watching a foreign film. But if you are, it provides the comfortable intimacy of a story told by someone who knows you.

And that was why I wanted to go ahead and watch The Expendables, as well. My theory was that it, also, would involve its own vernacular, and might resonate in the same way in its world.

I should note, here, that while both movies are rooted deeply in the culture of the ’80s and ’90s, and while I’m very much a child of the eras they’re rooted in, I myself am much more a part of the Scott Pilgrim culture than The Expendables culture. To be honest, I’ve never even watched a Rambo movie all the way through.

Scott Pilgrim is rooted heavily in pop geek culture of that period — in video games and sitcoms and comic books and indie bands. There’s hardly a frame of the film, to use an archaic colloquialism, that isn’t fan service for citizens of that world. The Expendables is written in exactly the vernacular you would expect of a movie that includes Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Steve Austin. (And doesn’t feature a baby in a key role; that’s an entirely separate genre.)

I would say it’s a credit to The Expendables that it’s not quite as slavishly devoted to its vernacular. The scene with “The Big Three” is handled with just as big a wink as you would expect, but then, later in the film, there’s a point where I thought, “They should totally have had Rocky fight that guy instead.” The problem, however, is that the entire point of The Expendables is that vernacular; it exists pretty much solely as a super-potent distillation of the ’80s over-the-top (no pun intended) action genre. Arguably, it would be hard for the film to have gone too far in that direction, since that’s pretty much its entire raison d’etre. It’s a movie, written in a particular vernacular, about that vernacular. It’s fun and entertaining, but very WYSIWYG.

Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, uses its vernacular as a medium for telling a larger story. It’s a story about relationships, and uses its very contrived world to tell a very real story. I identified with the movie in two ways — both the ambient references to a culture I was very familiar with, but, even more so, its musings on love and relationships. I lived more than a bit of both the context and the content. It was a film with heart, and not just the little eight-bit ones that show how much life you have left.

The Expendables was a couple of hours of fun viewing, Scott Pilgrim will earn a place on my Blu-Ray shelf.

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