Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

***originally written 24 August 2010***

It had to happen eventually. Someone let Edgar Wright loose in Hollywood. After finding acclaim with both Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, two fine and particularly British comedy movies from the last decade, Wright was always going to be lured away. Thus the triumvirate of Wright, Frost (Nick) and Pegg (Simon) has been broken. Quite brilliantly.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is based on a (rather fantastic) series of graphic novels. It concerns itself with a young fellow named – hey – Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera). He lives in Toronto. He’s fairly geeky, but he’s in a band, so gets cool-points. The band are called Sex Bob-Omb (the first of many MANY videogame references here). They’re in a battle of the bands competition. He’s also getting over a bad-breakup by going out with a 17 year old highschool girl named Knives (Ellen Wong). Then he meets/dreams Ramona Flowers.

Ramona is that cool-without-trying, aloof but beautiful girl that all us Scott Pilgrims have had a crush on at one time or another. She wears a troubled past on her face, but also does her best to hide it. And she goes to the library on rollerskates. Ramona is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was eye-catching as cheerleader Lee in Death Proof and yet-more-striking here. Scott is quite understandably smitten, is a piece of crap to Knives, and sets about trying to win Ramona’s heart. But there’s a catch. He must also defeat her seven evil exes in bizarre, over-the-top videogame homages during which reality becomes elastic and the film explodes in light and sound.

Sounds like a companion piece to Kick-Ass? Not *really*, although Scott Pilgrim does share that film’s strange see-sawing between smartly-drawn young characters and scenes of intense comic-book action and absurdity. In actuality Scott Pilgrim feels more like a companion piece to Edgar Wright’s other celebrated work, the turn-of-the-millennium sitcom Spaced. Now for all those Spaced fans out there, I know how intensely protective you are of ‘your’ show. Don’t go mad with excitement yet. This is not Spaced 2.0. But the two entities share a kindred spirit of playfulness, both are scattered with knowing refences to pop culture beacons, and both employ editing and scene-switching to optimum comic effect. It is this spirit that Wright resurrects to draw us into the movie. And it makes it an easy sell. The characters are easy to warm to, and the comic moments work pretty much all of the time.

There are teases that the film isn’t going to be grounded in reality. Early on when Scott and Knives play a dancing videogame, Knives performs a somersault over Scott and nobody bats an eye. Aside from this there are the comic-book touches of speed-lines and onomatopoeia suspended in the air. Remember the old Batman TV series from the 60s, when people got hit? Kinda like that, but far more often and a little more subtle. A little. Initially I found this terribly distracting and gimmicky, but I was pleased to find that after fifteen minutes or so, I had accepted it and was happy to go along with the affectation.

Then the evil exes turn up and some real visual spectacles start to punctuate the film. Maybe not ‘punctuate’. Maybe stab-right-through. Characters take on the durability of Wiley Coyote and use their special moves to batter Scott Pilgrim around the scenery until he can figure out their weakness and use it to destroy them. At which point they explode into coins (another of those many MANY videogame touches – hell, each fight has a little ‘VS’ appear on the screen). Along the way there are relationship dramas, character arcs and plenty more funnies to laugh at.

If this sounds like a routine romantic comedy disguised as something else, well, it is. But I have no problem with that, as long as it ticks the boxes romantic comedies usually miss (i.e. being in some way romantic, and in some way funny). In truth Scott Pilgrim goes for funny more than it goes for romantic. But the characters are there. They have heart. You want things to go well for them. Toward the end, I must admit, fight-scene fatigued set in. The later fights, though shorter than the impressive early ones, come thick and fast, and there’s a mild sense of overload. Perhaps it would’ve benefited from being five evil exes. You can all argue over which ones you’d cut from the movie.

I feel like I want to mention certain moments from the movie. Bits that were clever or funny or smartly-produced. But in that respect Scott Pilgrim is almost an embarrassment of riches. It’s like going to see a really good stand-up comic. You enjoy the experience completely but immediately afterwards can’t recall the funniest lines. Picking out one thing or another seems a little arbitrary. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t memorable, or that it was bad. Far from it. There’s just too much to choose from. A more fitting similie perhaps is that watching Scott Pilgrim vs the World is like eating an entire bag of fizzy Haribo by yourself. Each little piece is a treat. Some of the pieces are a little too sharp. But they’re all good. And afterwards you don’t remember them individually, you just remember eating something really tasty. And you suddenly have a sugar high.

Score:  4.5

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