Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – In Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World The Box Office – Film Review
By: Chris Delloiacono

I can’t claim to be a longtime reader of the Scott Pilgrim series. Back in March I saw the teaser trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and was sucked in. Immediately I went out and bought the first five volumes. Most of them were read on a long car ride to New England over Easter vacation. I am not a regular reader of manga style books, but Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work stepped beyond anything of its like. Love stories are also not my thing, but you mix in video game fights and a biting humor and you have a wholly original comic. Originality is all I’m really looking for in my comics at this point.

When it comes to comics a good writer is a much better selling point to me than almost any artist. The same goes for directors in film making; I see no clearer indication of quality than a visionary director. A fantastic script can always be loused up by a poor director. Wonderful actors are in lousy movies all the time. Outstanding directors generally make memorable movies.

Edgar Wright is a director you should be familiar with. Shaun of the Dead defied expectations by being a hilarious comedy, creepy horror movie, and a story of buddy love rolled into one flick. His second film, Hot Fuzz, was adrenaline-fueled, wild action and uproarious comedy. Wright’s gift seems to be juggling various genres, mixing those ingredients together, and, voila, what is generated doesn’t fit the mold of snap together pablum Hollywood generates with most releases.

I’m disappointed that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World didn’t have a boffo opening, since it is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. What do most moviegoers know about good films anyway? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made 400 million dollars in the US alone. Don’t confuse me as a motion picture snob that thinks only Oscar nods are the sign of an extraordinary film. I love action movies. In fact, I thought G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was one of the hidden gems of last summer. TF 2 was an unmitigated piece of *#*&. Yet it’s not just a movie that makes some money, it’s the 10th highest grossing domestic release EVER! Follow that with Avatar, another heartless, unoriginal spectacle with nothing to offer but pretty effects. Now that movie grosses more than any movie ever AND gets Academy Award nominations! Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has more heart, plus there’s action that doesn’t numb the senses,  and displays more originality than 10 Avatars.  Somehow it barely gets noticed at the box office.

Really?

Okay, well my rant is over. It’s been several years since I’ve written for the Nexus, so that hostility is out of my system. Let me tell you why I love the film.

We seem to talk about comic adaptations ad infinitum these days. The Scott Pilgrim series may not have reams of back issues like Green Lantern or Iron Man, but it has six digest-sized editions of source. This is one of those rare movies that takes the printed word seriously, fully visualizing the pencil and ink into moving images, but goes beyond what’s on the page to expand the world. That’s the thing that most film adaptations sour on. They either offer no allowance for improvement or the Hollywood machine simply craps on the printed word offering it only a passing nod.

A comic-to-film adaptation needs three elements: keeping to the spirit of the source, balanced tone, and committed actors.

The film does not deviate at all from the main premise, which if you’ve seen even one 30-second spot, you know at this point. Scott Pilgrim meets and falls in love with Ramona Flowers. If he hopes to continue dating her, he must not just FIGHT, but DEFEAT, her seven evil exes. The whole thing starts off quite normally. Sure there are slight visual flourishes, like neat little text boxes that introduce each character, but the first thirty minutes, are built like an angsty teen flick. It’s when that first evil-ex, Matthew Patel, shows up to fight Scott that the movie kicks into gear. Matthew and Scott duke it out kung-fu-arcade style and if car gears could shift to 11 that’s where the film stays for the remainder of its running time.

Edgar Wright succeeds since he doesn’t just pull the premise and make something safe, and thus, entirely different from the comic. This is a merger of video games and life. Very similar to the existence most of us lead, wouldn’t you say?  Only this is way cooler! Perhaps it can be called a hipster version of TRON.  The rest of the film is built like a video game with Scott, meeting a variety of bosses, each more powerful than the last.  In the end working his way up to the big baddie, Gideon. Gaming staples abound such as: power ups, coins clinking down when a battle is over, strength modifiers, points for winning battles, and enough sound effects to make even a casual gamer smile. Why is Scott Pilgrim’s life like a video game? Who cares! This is something different, folks, just get on board and enjoy the ride.

Tone could have been a problem but Wright’s direction allows the film to be tongue in check, laugh a bit at itself, but never show disrespect for the audience. The film is extremely lighthearted, although there’s a real sense of danger. How many comedic stories have you seen that successfully build any sort of tension as the hero’s plot nears resolution?  That’s a masterful blending of elements by an elite craftsmen.

The reason is the connection and investment you make in the characters, which is the final element that makes this an instant classic.

Can Edgar Wright put together a cast or what?

Michael Cera plays the annoying, clueless, dweeb better than almost anyone in today’s Hollywood. Here’s the thing, he’s also a fantastic hero when it comes to fisticuffs. Sure the battles are cartoony, but he’s believable. Without his performance nothing else in the movie would work. Cera is an everyman. How many of you reading these words are like Sylvester Stallone? How about Ryan Reynolds? Daniel Craig anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so. You’re more Cera than you’d like to admit. Now watch someone like us look awesome as he kicks all kinds of ass!

It’s not just a guy’s world. The girls do plenty of fighting and have some of the best lines in the film. In fact, this is one of those rare movies where the girls get to bust as many heads as the dudes. Ellen Wong, plays Knives Chau, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as Ramona, create a quirky triangle of love around the titular hero. Not only that but they do some stellar work during the fight sequences. Finally, Aubrey Plaza nearly stole the show with her foul-mouthed portrayal of Julie. What can I say, I love to hear a beautiful woman spew filth like a machine gun.

Kieran Culkin is a revelation as Scott’s gay friend, Wallace. Culkin’s caustic, vile humor takes over the flick whenver he’s on screen. Wallace is that direct friend that everyone needs. He says the things you don’t want to hear, but it’s that tough love that sets us on the right path. Sure the dialogue is all about the writers, but it’s the gleam in Culkin’s eye and the wicked delivery that are stunning. Beyond Joseph Gordon Levitt, I don’t think there’s a young actor with a greater command on screen.

Scott Pilgrim is the bassist in the band Sex Bob-Omb, so the music nearly serves as its own character.  This is probably the coolest band to hit celluloid since the One-Ders. Mark Webber does interesting work as the tortured “Talent” Stephen Stills. Aubrey Plaza as Kim Pine is one of the hidden gems. Kim is one of Scott’s exes and the drummer in their band. As her last name suggests, she still Pines for Scott. She is pent up rage and resentment. This makes for a fine drummer and a neat little turn in the picture. Mark Webber does the singing in the film, but the lyrics and music are provided by Beck. The story would fall flat if Sex Bob-Omb didn’t rattle the walls of the theatre. We are all Sex Bob-Omb because I felt like one of the band when their sonic storm of music is unleashed at the start of the picture.

The other pivotal roles are, obviously, the seven bad guys, AKA the League of Evil Exes. While the parts are not much more than extended cameos, each of these men, and one woman, produce pitch perfect performances. Nobody holds back with their part. It’s not common to have so many villains in a film, with nobody getting an excess of screen time. Sure you know Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman the best, but each ex gets their handful of moments on screen and then it’s onto the next “boss”. It’s not conventional, but nothing else is in the picture.  Instead of one actor stealing the show as the villain, you get seven memorable turns.  Nice change of pace!

I can go on all day about the performances, but I’m trying to temper my words into a manageably sized review. The movie is probably the finest of the year. That alone is not a ringing endorsement since most of what Hollywood spews out these days is forgettable hogwash. You haven’t seen anything like this before. It may not have done so well opening weekend, but it will stand the test of time. It’s possibly the “coolest” film to be released since the Matrix. At the very least this will be a quirky film that will always have an insane cult following. I think bigger things are in store when it comes to DVD/Blu Ray. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is going to transcend generations and pick up steam year after year. Especially as some of the sticks in the mud hit the retirement home and leave the cinema going to the hipper generation…you know us dorks that have played video games our whole lives.

Tags: ,