After months of hype and one kick-ass trailer after another, Edgar Wright’s latest film has arrived: Scott Pilgrim VS. The World, based on the comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, has hit theaters. There’s been a lot of talk over whether the film could possibly live up to the hype, particularly in the wake of those incredibly cool trailers, and there’s also been talk that the older moviegoers of America might be feeling left out by the nonstop parade of pop culture and video game references in the film. So, what did we think of the film? Find out below, my gentle Examiner readers…
One could probably make a very strong case for Scott Pilgrim VS. The World being the greatest video game movie ever made. It’s a neglected genre, but one that’s produced only occasionally good movies. In fact, short of Silent Hill, I’m hard-pressed to name another video game movie that I genuinely enjoyed. Of course, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is based on a series of graphic novels– not a video game– but you’d be forgiven for making that mistake if you walked into Edgar Wright’s latest film knowing nothing about the project’s development history. Scott Pilgrim is an entertainment machine, one that goes full-bore the moment that 8-bit Universal logo pops onscreen and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. In a way, it’s kind of exhausting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s follow the film critic rules and get the plot out of the way: Michael Cera plays the titular hero, an early-20’s slacker who’s had nothing but bad luck with relationships. When we first meet Scott, he’s just hooked up with a new girl: 17 year-old Knives Chau (newcomer Ellen Wong, who’s a great find on Wright’s part), who his friends immediately disapprove of. For one thing, she’s too young. For another, Scott has a tendency of destroying whomever he dates, and Knives reeks of innocence. Shortly enough, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wanders into Scott’s life, and he falls in love on the spot. Ramona’s got her own baggage, though, and Scott soon discovers that he’ll be forced to battle her “seven evil exes” in order to continue dating her. That’s the plot, as if you didn’t know from the trailers.
Edgar Wright has described the film as a musical where the elaborate musical numbers have been replaced with elaborate fight scenes, and that’s the best possible description for what he’s done with Scott Pilgrim. One simply cannot improve upon that observation, so I’m just gonna let it stand. What you need to know, though, is that Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is about 70% fight scenes, and if you don’t think that sounds like something you’re going to have the patience for, this won’t be your cup of tea. Also worth noting: Edgar Wright proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can direct action. While there are many, many fights, they’re all different enough in appearance and tone that they never feel like repeats of anything we’ve already seen. The action is always clear– no confusing, hard-to-discern stretches of punches being thrown here– and always has personality.
I loved the movie, but I can clearly see how some might hate it: it’s wall-to-wall kinetic energy, unforgiving in its desire to keep you entertained. The only film I can think of that’s even close to approximating the energy and constant eye candy on display here is Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That was another film that was packed end-to-end with crazy characters, in-your-face color and movement, and just flat-out spectacle– and it has the ability to exhaust in the exact same way that Scott Pilgrim will undoubtedly exhaust some in the audience. I’m thinking in particular of anyone over the age of 30. Your grandmother, for instance, will feel beaten down and mystified by Scott Pilgrim VS. The World.
So, the direction’s nearly flawless, and besides the action, energy, and colorfullness of the film, there’s also a steady stream of comic book influences on display. Thought balloons, little animations, and other CGI doo-dads pop up all over the screen, but never to an extent that feels like it’s overwhelming the actors. By translating the comics so literally, Wright ran a real risk of being obnoxious with these devices, but– as expected– he’s proven himself a master at balancing tones and gimmickry. If you’ve looked at the trailers and been annoyed by the hearts, lightning bolts, and words popping up on the screen, you should be prepared to see a lot of that throughout the film. If, on the other hand, you’ve find them quite charming, be aware that Wright never overdoes it.
Now that we’ve covered the direction, allow me to single out a few of the actors here. Kieran Culkin (who plays Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace Wells) is a real highlight of the film– as many reviews have already pointed out– and I found myself wishing that it’d been him in the titular role. Michael Cera does just fine with the material here, and after seeing him in Youth in Revolt I gained an all-new appreciation for the actor, but there were moments in Cera’s performance that left me feeling unconvinced (particularly the attraction between him and Ramona, but we’ll get to that in a moment). If you’re worried that Michael Cera’s going to be in full-blown cutesy, mumbly, emo mode here, you need to be aware that Michael Cera is pretty much in full-blown cutesy, mumbly, emo mode here. The character’s written that way, though, so let’s not blame him for that. If you leave annoyed, go buy Youth in Revolt. You’ll feel better.
Then there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers. With almost zero exaggeration, I fell completely in love with Winstead the moment she rollerbladed onscreen, but it graduated to a kind of hopeless-love when she started fighting Knives Chau with a giant sledgehammer. With her multi-colored hair, varied tights and fishnets, and love of tea, I found myself powerless against her charms. If the idea was to get the audience to fall as completely in love with Ramona as Scott has, Edgar Wright– and Mary Elizabeth Winstead– have more than succeeded. Please do not be surprised if you learn that she’s taken out a restraining order on me some time in the near future. Good God, is she hot. But I could go on all day…
The rest of the cast is uniformally excellent, but Winstead and Culkin are the standouts. Jason Schwartzman shows up doing his greasy D-bag routine, and– as per usual– nails the role. Brandon Routh is hilarious as the dim-witted vegan Todd Ingram (and keep an eye out for two hilarious cameos at the conclusion of Todd’s sequence), and made me wish we’d seen more of him since Superman Returns. The listing could go on, but you get the idea: Wright gets amazing, career-high performances out of many of the actors here, and they should all be enormously proud of what they’ve accomplished.
Edgar Wright also worked a lot of the heart of O’Malley’s graphic novels into the film, and more than an action movie or a comedy, Scott Pilgrim turns out to be a really cool romance. There’s just enough recognizable moments in the early moments of Scott and Ramona’s relationship for their story to have heft, but the rest of the action and gimmicky moments stop it from ever feeling overbearingly sweet. I did think that the attraction of Ramona to Scott– as written– was intermitently hard to believe. Ramona’s tough as nails from the moment we meet her (it’s one of the things Scott’s so attracted to), yet Scott never becomes anything more than a creampuff until the very end of the movie. We gather that Ramona wanted to skew “nicer” with her new boyfriend, but Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim can seem– in some moments– to be hopelessly childish. This is, of course, the point– Scott’s developing from a child into a man that’s capable of sustaining a healthy relationship– but some moments stretched my suspension of disbelief nearly to the breaking point. If I have any complaints about the film, that’s it.
The film is packed with great music, clear-cut and always-enjoyable action, features excellent performances across the board, and never goes overboard with its inherent silliness– all while staying faithful (to a level comparable to Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City) to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original series. The ending’s a bit different, but not so much that you’re going to care. On a technical level, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is as finely-crafted a film as Chris Nolan’s Inception. I didn’t enjoy Scott Pilgrim as much as Inception— which turned me into a raving fanboy of a film geek more than any other film in the past five years– but it’s certainly one of the summer’s best. My grade? A-.
Stay tuned for more funny videos, news, reviews, interviews, recaps, photos, and more from the Comedy Examiner’s Office in the near future, folks. We took a mini-vacation from the world’s comedic goings-on this weekend, but we’re back with some pretty exciting stuff this week. Hit the “Subscribe” button up top so that you don’t miss out, and check out these other recent Comedy Examiner articles while you’re here:
FUNNY VIDEO: SLO-MO FOOTAGE OF THAT SARAH PALIN EYEROLL THAT NEVER HAPPENED (WITH VIDEO)– in which we take a few minutes to make fun of Sarah Palin again, because that is what the people have demanded.
FUNNY VIDEO: WOMAN DISCOVERS THAT MCDONALD’S DOESN’T SELL MCNUGGETS BEFORE 11AM, PROMPTLY LOSES HER SH-T (WITH VIDEO)– in which we learn that you should never tell grumpy-looking women from Toledo, OH that they can’t have chicken nuggets at 10 in the morning.
“THE KIDS IN THE HALL” ARE RETURNING WITH ALL NEW MATERIAL THIS MONTH THANKS TO IFC (WITH VIDEO)– in which we learn that The Kids in The Hall’s “Death Comes to Town” is coming to the States, and we couldn’t possibly be happier.
FUNNY VIDEO: WHAT IF MOVIE THEATERS WERE HONEST IN THEIR PRE-SHOW ADVERTISING? (WITH VIDEO)– in which we imagine what it would be like if movie theaters were upfront about the moviegoing experience.
(photos: top–movieposterdb.com, next three–slashfilm.com, the rest–collider.com)