Okay, before I wade into this one up to my neckline I’d better make two things especially clear. Number one : I love videogames. Old school videogames. Dusty pieces of plastic you have to blow into before they’ll work, AC adaptors the size of breeze blocks, suspicious-looking joysticks and overpriced ‘cheat’ cartridges. I’m a kid of the 90s. I grew up pad in hand and Mario on screen. Stylistically, this film speaks to me, and people like me. Number two, I’ve not read the comic books, but I’m well aware they exist. Basically, I’m coming in a novice. But hey – check out the number of folks who’d read the Harry Potters before watching the films.
With that disclaimer out of the way (so you’re well aware where I stood before watching), we can begin. Pilgrim is a comic fantasy about a twentysomething guitarist who finds himself falling in love with a girl who’s out of league. He then finds out that to be within a shot of winning her heart, he needs to ‘defeat’ her seven evil exes. Stylistically the story is shot as if it’s a real-life videogame, and that’s its main facet. If you’re not remotely interested in gaming, you may as well check out now – it’s completely covered in the stuff. This makes things visually entertaining, at least, for folks like myself.
Stylistically, it’s unique. And it’s never visually boring. Scenes slide in and out giving you barely blinking time, comic-book sound effects splash all over the show, and, obviously, there’s the whole Street Fighter-style battles that preside over the main story. This is a film with meticulous style and design – the books have clearly been adhered to at least face-0n, if not in the plot department (some folks elsewhere have pointed out errors that probably plague every single other adaptation in existence).
But that’s about it. For me. It looks nice. The nods to 90s retro gave me a few wry smiles here and there, and the story incredibly fluidly. But… it’s very, very annoying. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but – it feels like a cartoon. Admittedly, that’s what it was adapted from – a comic – but with actual people, the level of kooky, the endless onslaught of meta-referencing, and the wry, sarcastic humour do not work. I didn’t find myself connecting with any of the characters, caring about who Scott went out with, whether his band got a recording contract, or (and this is the most important) if the bad guys won or not. The protagonists in this adaptation in Pilgrim are either wildly antagonistic and two-dimensional, or, like Michael Cera’s portrayal of Scott, utterly wet.
More importantly, this feels like a movie that’s been made to purposely alienate 90% of the intended box office audience. Don’t get me wrong – the direction and visuals are excellent. And I myself can appreciate them. But the story (which, fact fans, is the most important part to any film) gets swamped by closed-off, obnoxious characters, visual detour upon visual detour upon visual detour, and worst of all, a distinct lack of heart. As a fantasy film, a suspension of belief is wholly necessary to enjoy the action here – but, hey. Never Ending Story is fantasy. Back to the Future is fantasy. And despite having their story worlds up in the clouds, you are connected to the characters. You’re with them from the beginning. In Pilgrim, you’re thrown into a world full of kooks and snarks and you’ve to accept it and like it. Immediately. I’m not saying schmaltz and saccharine is necessary to establish heart. You just need a good stock of characters folks can relate to, have the story at the centre of the piece, and don’t don’t DON’T be led by style. Pilgrim positively masturbates over itself every five minutes. The exclusion imposed on the audience from its characters and its own humour stands right in the way of anyone attempting to enjoy it.
I’m disappointed, because I genuinely tried so hard to like this. And take into account my spiel at the start. I’ve been given different sides from different people to Pilgrim, and I have to sway with the more negative audience. I enjoyed it immensely on a visual and nostalgic level. But it doesn’t work as a film. It could work as an animation. Also, Michael Cera. God. Michael Cera. You could wring him dry like a flannel and it’d take days. I think the stumbling block here is a dependency on style and not on the story. Also, bear in mind that I am the ideal target audience. Have I made that clear? Like, whatever, and… stuff.
PROS : Visually brilliant. Lots of in-jokes for 90s gamers. Good pace.
CONS : Story overshadowed by style. Obnoxious characters (may just be the acting). Exclusive to a wider audience. Smug. Not many laughs.
3/10. No. I’m not giving it any more because the visuals are good. Because visuals don’t make a film. Hoo, boy. Am I looking forward to Avatar…