Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Review

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
An epic of epic weirdness

How many times have you heard someone describe a movie as a videogame playing out on the big screen, but without the controller? How many times have you yourself felt that way about a movie? And that shouldn’t even include the movies that actually are based on real videogames. Well apparently Edgar Wright heard those criticisms. Mr. Wright is the same director who brought us the razor-sharp zombie and action parodies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and with Scott Pilgrim, he essentially takes those videogame comparisons head-on by creating a world that literally is a living, breathing videogame where people break out in fights at random with pixilated effects, 8-bit sound bytes, and end-level bosses with superpowers. It’s an 80s/90s nostalgia trip for the people who were in-tune with both the film and gamer cultures of the time (such as myself), but what does that mean for everyone else?

Plot Synopsis: Much to the chagrin of his band mates, Scott Pilgrim (who’s in his 20s) is distracted by his high school age girlfriend Knives Chau, whom he doesn’t really like so much as he just wants to have someone he can call his girlfriend. At a party he goes to, however, he meets the girl of his dreams (quite literally actually), Ramona Flowers, who seems have no interest in Scott and may even be annoyed by his personalities. Through sheer determination, Scott soon convinces her to go out on a date with him, probably thinking that if she just gets it over with then he will soon go away. But while on the date, Ramona slowly starts warming up to his nature and eventually the two get into a relationship with each other. Unfortunately for Scott, not only does Knives not take the news of his new girlfriend lightly, but also Ramona’s seven ex-boyfriends, dubbed the League of Evil Exes, soon begin appearing to cause trouble. If he is to officially date Ramona, Scott must defeat each of her evil-exes and straighten things out with Knives.


Those who are unaware should note that this movie is based on a series of comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley.  Despite being loaded with various comic book and videogame stylistic choices and obscure references, the movie tells a fairly simple story with well-rounded characters. They are very flawed, and very human beings in an otherwise fantastical world. While I was quick to label Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim as yet another socially awkward character in the actor’s filmography, the truth is that Scott is a much more layered character than Cera has played before. He still retains his penchant for stuttering and low voice mumbling, but Scott also proves to be quite a prick to most of the other people around him. He cheats on Knives (Ellen Wong) with Romana and frequently pushes his band friends aside for his own personal goals (usually involving a girl). At the same time, Cera plays these selfish aspects of Scott with naivety and blissful unawareness, so even if we don’t completely sympathize with him most of the time, he still remains a mostly likable character. It’s a great opportunity for Cera to show some range beyond his usual tics as an actor, and those who write him off as one-note should give him a chance here.

Ramona Flowers proves to be Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s first true breakout role (Final Destination 3 notwithstanding), expressing Romana’s cute, spunky attitude with the repressed sadness and commitment issues inherent in the character. The reasons were a little fuzzy to me over why Ramona would be so quickly attracted to Scott during their first date, especially since he seems to be annoying her most of the time, but their later scenes together remedy that somewhat, especially after we learn more about her past. The rest of the cast holds their own too, with Kieran Culkin (Macaulay’s brother) frequently stealing the show as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace. Culkin’s dry wit and observations provide the film with its funniest moments. Ellen Wong was the only real weak link in the cast, coming off as more annoying than the endearing the script seems to be going for.


And despite the fact that the seven evil exes don’t get too much screen time individually, they were more memorable than most villains are for entire movies. My favorites were Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, as a hysterically self-centered movie star and an arrogant vegan respectively. Another great thing about them is that director Wright comes up with new and creative ways for Scott to defeat each of them, usually in a way tailored to their professions and personalities. For the movie star, Scott has to fight his stuntmen and use the man’s ego against him. In the battle with twins, he must defeat them in a music standoff. And those are only a couple of the situations. Wright directs each of them with real flair and exuberant energy, deftly combining the realism and normalcy of the protagonists with the quirky and colorful nature of the action scenes. After a while, the two styles begin to merge together, with Wright pulling off the affectionate pop culture references with swiftness so that they don’t overcome the story. Later scenes of dialogue are often edited with the same gusto as in the battles, fashioning a screwball comedy tone that benefits the ADD nature of the movie.

If there’s an issue to be had with the movie, it’s that the super fast pace of the plot and action scenes gets exhausting about 15 minutes before the two-hour length of it ends. The climatic battle in particular is so hyperactive and tiring that I almost lost interest in what was transpiring onscreen. Still, the amount of pure imagination and filmmaking skill on display here is undeniable, which will help the film stand out in the coming years, and I can’t remember a movie as unique and genre-bending this year apart from Inception and Kick-Ass (which this movie will surely be compared to). Scott Pilgrim didn’t fully wow me as much as it did for the critical community, but it is an unquestionably fun and sweet love letter to teenage romances and videogames that fans of both those areas should enjoy.


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