Spoilers for Inception maybe a bit
When I see a movie I like my brain spins around trying to figure out exactly what I thought of it, a process that can takes weeks of conversation and movie-review reading. Inception is a good example of this. Mitch and I wrote a whole blog about Inception, and talked about it with like a dozen people and I only just now feel like I can really articulate what I thought about it in a clear an specific way.
(For the record what I think of Inception this: the five levels of reality shown in Inception break down like so:
Level 1 is like the mind blowing first act of the Matrix.
Level 2 is a Steven Segal movie
Level 3 is this really excellent sci-fi thriller in a hotel starring Joseph Gordon Levitt in an awesome suit zero gravity fighting in a rotating hotel.
Level 4 is another Steven Segal movie
Level 5 is a weak version of Stephen Soderbergh's Solaris, where I see what is going on but don't feel it.
The awesomeness of the movie is not in the levels but in how the levels are edited together to make a compelling machine of a movie, which is more an engineering feat than a philosophical, emotional, or stylish feat, which sounds like more of a complaint than it is because the engineering is REALLY good. A-).
This part of my brain was always muddled reading the Scott Pilgrim comics, which I enjoyed, but was never really able to form a strong or clear opinion on. Neil Shyminsky or the Savage Critics would say things on their blogs about what is wrong or right with the comics, and I would sort of agree with both while still liking the book basically, even though they were maybe disagreeing with each other. It happens, maybe more often now than it used to. It's like Flowers for Algernon over here sometimes.
The Scott Pilgrim movie, like the comics, I liked. I liked it more than the comics probably, but I am not 100% why. Probably because it was much shorter, and as Neil pointed out this is not really a story that needs 1200 pages, however decompressed. When the movie calls itself "An Epic of Epic Epicness" this is ironic. It is harder to be ironic on that point, though not impossible, when you have 1200 pages. I liked the fight scenes and the sense of humor and the direction was always entertaining, and I loved how even though it was not always perfect, every line and scene was trying to do something interesting, and there was enough stuff so that when things did not work you were on to the next thing before you could say "That didn't work". Making a pun on "bi-curious" with "bi-furious" for example would be a weak joke if there were not so much other stuff going on, and calling Ramona a "has-bian" (as opposed to a lesbian) made me laugh, though maybe it should not have. Some people have called that ADD-addled, but it makes for a fun energetic movie. And for a summer pop movie action comedy thing energy and verve and bounce count for a lot, more than anything else maybe. I think my favorite joke was when Scott is on the phone with his sister and she says something Wallace Wells just said a moment ago as he was passing out, and Scott asks her how she knew that; she says Wallace texted her, and suddenly has a phone in his hand, though he is still passed out.
But ultimately I am not able to really judge it too specifically, or respond very well to claims that the movie is misogynist, for example, because I am too close to it, and specifically to Scott. He doesn't drink, and when he does drink he drinks gin and tonics, and he worries about his hair, and he wants to impress a girl who is clearly out of his league, and he is going nowhere, and he is weak-willed, and he only knows how to make garlic bread but is surprised and distressed to find out bread makes you fat, and screws up and he sees his life as a video-game, and everyone loves him and he gets the girl the end? Yeah that particular brand of wish-fulfilment is too close for me to judge. It just makes me want Scott Pilgrim to win so bad I don't really care about anything else.
With wish fulfillment you want a character who is a blank slate for the audience to project themselves into, which is why you get so many movies with bland leads, characters who are just cyphers for the audience. I mean I like the Jason Bourne movies but the hero works because he has no memory, is not that specific, so he could be you. On the other end you have movies that create specific characters that are still relatable or sympathetic but also real people who are not you. You relate to them as people, without feeling like you are them. Like everyone on the Wire. Otherness is involved. Scott Pilgrim is a third thing, something that is maybe part of what makes cult movies work. The main character in Scott Pilgrim is a blank cypher like Jason Bourne, but for a much more narrow audience. Jason Bourne hits a nerve with most men I would bet. Scott Pilgrim hits the same nerve for nerdy videogame-influenced ineffective dopes like myself. This may account for its modest success at the box office. It went up against the Expendables and Eat Pray Love, both movies that I imagine most men and most women, respectively, can easily project themselves into. I imagine that in the Expendables you get to imagine you are a big action hero. The pleasures of imaging you are a mostly ineffective kid from Toronto with no job are smaller, though more intimate, even after he defeats the bad guys and gets the girl. So I don't know what to say about it other than I thought it was a blast. I can't for example, get into the debate about whether Cera was a good choice or a disaster, because anything negative I would say would be like going after myself. I want him to get the girl and save the day and be funny, and I can't see the flaws that are probably there, just as I can't see so many flaws in my own life. Scott Pilgrim, c'est moi.
On a side note, I don't know that much about homosexuality as it appears in PG-13 mainstream movies generally, or in movies attempting to be big summer movies, but it seems to me that Scott Pilgrim is pretty progressive, in the way both Wallace Wells and Ramona have same-sex relationships and it is presented as just something that is just part of life, no big deal. Scott is surprised Ramona had a girlfriend but the joke is that he failed to catch the warning sign of her correcting his "evil ex boyfriends" with "evil exes." It is presented as something he should have seen coming, but was oblivious about. Even Scott sharing a bed with his gay roommate, and even his gay roommate's boyfriends, is just like something people do and barely worth remarking on. I thought the presentation of this as unremarkable was remarkable.