Posted by: Trey | 08/15/2010

You’re pretentious, this club sucks, I have beef. Let’s fight.

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Trey’s Rating: 5 gold coins (out of 5)

Full Disclosure: I have never read any of the Scott Pilgrim comics. This probably makes me some kind of failure as a comic book fan, but it’s true.  It is a failing that will soon be corrected, however, as I have now seen the error of my ways thanks to Edgar Wright’s third feature film (following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is likely to be a very divisive film (as the reviews have already indicated), and I think this is for several reasons.  First will be the generation gap – the stylized video game and comic book elements which pervade the film will probably alienate older viewers (and people who like to criticize gaming as a waste of time).  Then there are the Michael Cera haters, who claim to be turned off by his having basically played the same goofy nerdish hipster since Arrested Development.  There are more, but those are the two biggest reasons that I have been given by other moviegoers.  However, I am happy to say that I don’t fall into either category.

Edgar Wright is the kind of director I would love to hang out with.  His taste in movies reveals an eccentricity to rival my own (see his recent list of favorite movie musicals, listen to his audio commentaries, or see any of his posts on Joe Dante’s website Trailers from Hell ), and the various techniques he uses in Scott Pilgrim are as much a love letter to his favorite films (cult and otherwise) as they are a tribute to video games and comics.  Just off my single theatrical screening, I caught visual cues referencing Brian De Palma, Hong Kong action movies, maybe some Sam Raimi…and who knows what else I missed in all the whip pans that is waiting to be discovered in repeat viewings.  More than once Wright has mentioned the influence of De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (another wonderful multi-genre movie that I will have to review someday), and it shows.  Stylistically that is what I love about this film – it is an amazing hybrid of genres, interwoven so tightly that it deliberately defies simple categorization.

This movie throws so much visual and auditory information at you so quickly that even now I am trying to process the blur of sound and motion for this review.  Aside from the visuals, I loved the story.  I wouldn’t say that I loved the characters, but only because I don’t think you’re supposed to.  Scott and Ramona are both imperfect, emotionally immature people.  The fight sequences thus become a kind of allegorical battle against their own past mistakes – think Everyman, but with more kung fu and comedy.  Are they “perfect” by the ending?  I don’t think so, and I would not like the movie as much if it tried to convince me otherwise.  But they have grown, and the experience has made them better than they were.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the performances, without which the cinematography and special effects would be just so much superficial fluff.  Michael Cera is, I think, perfect as Scott Pilgrim.  It can be taken as a variation on the same character he has become known for playing, but I would argue that the differences make this performance in particular stand out from his past roles.  For most of the film, Pilgrim is a jerk.  The rest of the characters seem to see him as such, and the way he treats Knives is horrible.  Even the whole idea of fighting for Ramona displays a kind of possessiveness toward women that is incredibly chauvinistic.  However, the character is given a chance to grow and learn from his mistakes and failings.  When the film ends he is still very early in this process, but Cera does a very good job in conveying the transformation that takes place within Pilgrim.

Kieran Culkin, as Pilgrim’s gay roommate, is one of the standout comedic performances of the film (and that is a sentence that I never thought I would find myself writing).  All of the evil exes are entertaining (although the Asian twins get virtually no screen time or exposition), but Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, and Brandon Routh were by far the funniest.  Really the entire supporting cast is perfect, and I could go on for pages detailing each one.  Throughout the film, the music becomes a character in and of itself, with Beck providing songs for Pilgrim’s band – Sex Bob-omb.

There were some minor problems I had with the film, none of which took away substantially from my enjoyment.  With some of the evil exes, there apparently was not time or interest in providing much in the way of exposition or backstory – very little is given for ‘bi-furious’ Roxy Richter, and the Katayanagi twins appear only for their very brief battle scene.  Even Jason Schwartzman’s character, while sufficiently evil as an almost satanic record producer, could have used a little more development.  But then, I guess that’s part of the video game influence at work – reach end of level, defeat boss, move on.  Also, I couldn’t help but feel like the ending had been altered in post-production (which, according to a google search, is true).  I’m not sure I would prefer the other ending, but I hope it ends up on the DVD/Bluray as a deleted scene so I can compare.

I think I am more or less safe in saying that Scott Pilgrim vs the World is the best romantic action rock musical comedy ever made.  Having only seen it once (so far), I hesitate to say that it is Edgar Wright’s best film to date, but it is certainly his most ambitious.  Rarely do I have the opportunity to see in a theater a film that succeeds in blending so many elements that I would not expect to work together, but Wright and his cast/crew have more than exceeded my expectations and created a film that is a comic book movie, a video game movie, and yet transcends both of those labels.  I am already looking forward to his next film (Ant-Man, please?) – I just hope he doesn’t wait 3 years this time.

© Ralph Lawson III, 2010, All Rights Reserved

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