Comic Book Movies: "Scott Pilgrim"

Michael Cera in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Universal Pictures

George Reeves played Superman in the 1950's TV series, just one in a long line of live-action adaptations of comic books. The tradition continues in the film our David Edelstein has been to see:

When I was a cub, I thought to be a film critic you needed a knowledge of film (obviously), art, history, Shakespeare … What I never guessed was that someday you'd need a PhD in comic books. Sorry, "graphic novels." I've already started boning up on my "Green Lantern." Big exam next year.

Beyond the superheroes, though, there's a kind of comic-book movie that raises fascinating questions. Some filmmakers don't just want to get the content onscreen. They want to reproduce-or translate-the form. Why? I'm not sure.

Consider the results.

In 1982, director George Romero made "Creepshow" from the series of EC horror comics. The framing device of the Stephen King script was a kid sneaking a read, so the comic-book origin was central. There were marvelous sequences, but the campy effects finally threw you out of the movie.

But "Creepshow" was more involving than "Dick Tracy" eight years later. Director Warren Beatty used a limited palette, a handful of colors, but these archetypal cops and robbers just looked embalmed.

Jump ahead fifteen years and Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller used computers to create a ravishing universe for "Sin City": luminous black and white with splashes of crimson and a nauseating mustard for a demonic killer. I loved every frame. But again, the look was no distraction from how shallow it was.

Now, the wonderful British director Edgar Wright uses Canadian graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley for "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." The hero is a slacker played by Michael Cera. The frames evoke comic-book panels and arcade video-game screens-from the '80s, the primitive era of Pac-Man and Space Invaders.

At first, it's elating: There's a connection between Scott's sense of potency with his bass guitar and his transformation into a videogame hero to battle his true love's "evil exes." But it runs down. The drama is almost primitive videogame, and Actor Michael Cera seems too weak-willed. The parade of super-villains is tedious, a forced march.

I find something unsatisfying about even thrilling stylized comic book movies. You don't see the world through new eyes; you escape into a childish and hermetically-sealed version of the past. You might get more from hiding under covers reading comics.


For more info:
The Projectionist (David Edelstein's Movie Blog)
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