For many directors it’s a credit to have a regular working relationship with a handful of actors, as it allows them a level of comfort when making a film. In Edgar Wright’s case his partnership with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost has led to the three being associated together as almost a detriment. They have worked so well together that anything outside of this comfortable working relationship, started during British sitcom Spaced, seems almost like a disappointment because of how brilliant that show and both of their film projects (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) were. Tackling a project without his two signature stars, especially in such a quirky project like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, seems like the ultimate test for Wright. As it stands, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is proof that Edgar’s directing chops can handle material without his go-to stars.
The title character (Michael Cera) is a 22 year old unemployed slacker who plays bass in Sex Bob-Omb, an awful band. Sponging off his gay friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and having his sister (Anna Kendrick) needling him to find direction with his life, Scott’s an unassuming hipster-type in a bad place and unable to find a way out. Having a relationship with a high schooler (Ellen Wong) consisting of Dance Dance Revolution and tours through thrift shops in their native Toronto, Scott’s world is about to get shattered by a woman literally out of his dreams: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Embarking on a relationship with her, he finds he has to take on her evil ex-boyfriends in mortal combat to win her heart culminating with a one-on-one confrontation with Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).
But the story itself isn’t what stands out the most; this is a love story between two people working out issues with their past to figure out if there can be a future between the two. Ramona and Scott have a relatively typical courtship and romance but instead of the baggage of former relationships haunting them they’re literally trying to kill Scott. Winstead and Cera have a strong chemistry with one another that helps to carry the film and it’s in the little things between the two throughout the film as he battles her exes that make us want Scott to win.
With enough action to satisfy the film’s action quotient, the film’s strength lies in the fact that the film is also remarkably funny. Cera is a veteran hand at comedy and his ability to use his usual stock character of geeky hipster and throw in little variations, including a lack of self esteem and inability to make that final leap, but this is also a perfectly cast film. Even throwaway cameo roles from Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. are incredibly funny. The story itself is strong, but it’s in how Wright presents it that takes the film from being good to very good to being a masterpiece.
Having presented two mainstream films with traditional looks, Wright takes a radical approach and sculpts the film into a video game come to life. Taking on pop culture references known and obscure, Wright crafts the film into more of a video game come to life rather than a proper film. From little information bars that pop up throughout to animated boxes straight from the campy Adam West era of Batman, Wright has taken the traditional approach to the genre and thrown it out completely. This isn’t a reinvention of story-telling itself but in how a film in the comic book genre can look. On a just pure visual basis this is a fascinating film but there’s plenty of substance behind it.
It works because it’s done so well; there’s a level of consistency to his world and in its presentation throughout the film that there’s never a moment where it changes into a more traditional film. It’s a radical approach but one that fits the source material much more than the traditional approach would. He also puts in little moments that seem like throwaway gags at first and pays them off throughout the film, giving it a level of complexity that is much appreciated. There are also differences in setup and style between the action sequences, giving us six different fight scenes that all have unique and distinct looks, and he manages to weave in character building moments between them that advance the plot but give us a reason to care about everyone involved.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could’ve been another film with Michael Cera overcoming the odds to get the girl and been just like any other action comedy with a romantic storyline but something remarkable happened: Edgar Wright gave it a soul and style unseen so far this year.
Director: Edgar Wright Notable Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Hader, Anna Kendrick, Satya Bhabha, Mae Whitman, Shota Saito, Keita Saito, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr. Writer(s): Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall based off the graphic novel series “Scott Pilgrim” by Bryan Lee O’Malley