Reviews: "The Expendables" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"


Normally it's pretty rare for me to see any two movies in theaters in the same weekend, much less two movies on opening weekend, but both "The Expendables" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" appealed to me enough to get me into my local theater this weekend to check them out.

First up, "The Expendables", which I saw last night. There's no getting around it, this is a guy movie. There isn't a single female on the poster and there are about four in the entire movie (in fact, there are more MMA fighters than females in the movie). The "Buffy" fan in me was mildly excited about seeing Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) on the big screen, but she's in the movie for all of three minutes.

Even without any real depth, the movie totally works. The plot is completely inconsequential, and I'm not going to bother getting into it, since really all it does is slow things down and serve to get the key people in place for the action scenes. And the strength of this movie is its action scenes. The final 20 minutes of the movie are basically one long extended ass-kicking sequence, upping the ante from hand-to-hand combat to shootouts to bombs to a missile -- a missile that is THROWN by Terry Crews and shot it mid-air by Sylvester Stallone.

The star of the movie isn't Stallone, or Jason Statham or Jet Li or anyone else whose name appears on the poster. No, instead, it's Crews's exploding-round shotgun, which loudly serves as the marker for the "this shit is about to get out of control" point in the movie. In fact, it's entirely possible the movie was written around one of Crews's Old Spice commercials. EXPLOSION!

As for the much-hyped uniting of Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, well, really it's just one scene. Neither Willis nor Schwarzenegger ever actually gets in on the action (nor does Mickey Rourke, who also has a momentum-killing blue-lit monologue in the middle of the movie) but the scene still works as a nostalgia piece for '80s action fans, and also provides the best line of the movie (I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say it involves Arnold and a job he can never have).

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is a different kind of guy movie, one that allows females to not only exist in its universe but to play key roles in the story. And, unlike "The Expendables", the story plays a key role in the movie, rather than just setting up the next action scene.

The trailers for this movie have played up the whole "League of Evil Exes" aspect, but as much as its about Scott fighting to win Ramona's heart, it's about Scott and Ramona finding out who they are. The story movies rapidly, as it tries to condense the six Scott Pilgrim graphic novels down to one two-hour movie (and takes its own turns, rather than following the books precisely), but it never becomes hard to follow.

Still, for as good as the story is in "Scott Pilgrim", the strength of the movie is its visuals. Leaning heavily on the book's video game influences, the battle scenes look amazing while also maintaining a comedic tone. This truly is a movie for the video game generation, and the references succeed by being genre-specific, rather than game-specific (though there are mentions of Pac-Man, Zelda, Tetris and many others). Fighting games, RPGs and platformers all get their moments to shine.

Also shining is the supporting cast, which tends to steal scenes at a prodigious rate. Anna Kendrick is great as Scott's sister Stacy, and both Brie Larson and Alison Pill have their moments as Scott's exes Envy and Kim respectively. For me, the ultimate scene stealer was Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers (and as an aside, when I was watching the movie, it was KILLING me that I couldn't remember where I recognized her from -- when I got home and looked her up on IMDB, it totally clicked for me that she was in Kenny Mayne's web series "Mayne Street"). Her scene in the coffee shop with the censored profanities was laugh-out-loud funny. And it wasn't the only one.

When it comes down to it, both of these movies get a "see it in theaters" rating from me, because of the strength of their visuals. And you won't feel cheated if you spend $12 to see either one. Hell, make it a day at the movies and see both of them -- I might even go back next weekend and do just that.

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