A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2010
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
2010, PG-13, 112 mins.
2010, PG-13, 112 mins.
Michael Cera: Scott Pilgrim / Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Ramona
Flowers / Kieran Culkin: Wallace Wells / Chris Evans: Lucas
Lee / Anna Kendrick: Stacey Pilgrim / Alison Pill: Kim Pine / Ellen
Wong: Knives Chau
The tagline of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD states that the film is “an epic of epic epicness.”
They weren’t kidding.
is also a movie first: an
American film adaptation based on a
Canadian comic book directed by a Brit starring a Canuck and filmed in
the Great White North. It’s
also possibly the very first film I’ve seen that manages to involve, in
random order: rock & roll music, sly satire, videogame references both
big and small, larger-than-life comic book super heroes and villains, a
coming of age love story, and…yes…gravity defying kung fu mayhem.
Is it just me, or is just about every
romantic dramedy made all the more better by the addition of martial arts?
PILGRIM is an utterly assaultive auditory-visual experience…but I mean
that in the most sincere and complimentary manner possible.
I have never seen a film with this one’s unlimited supply of
hyper-caffeinated energy and vitality.
SCOTT PILGRIM is madly and obsessively in love with its source
material – the 2004-2010 digest sized black and white graphic novels by
Bryan Lee O’Malley - and there is rarely a moment when this does not
show. That is the source of
its ultimate strength: the film’s unapologetic embracing of the
spastically goofy and eccentric vibe of O’Malley’s Canadian comics
alongside its cheeky and wickedly subversive parody of the video game
aesthetics of yesteryear make it an audaciously ambitious original.
Very rarely can a critic believably use the terms “you have not
seen anything quite like it,” but in SCOTT PILGRIM’s case…there’s
no other real way to slice it.
called the film “assaultive.” Maybe
that was a tad too harsh sounding. Perhaps
I should have labeled the experience of seeing it as a brash, bizarre,
absurd, and hallucinogenic rush.
That’s sounds better. The
film places its foot on the gas pedal and never lets go.
Some critics have labored away by calling the film
“over-stylized” and too "relentlessly frantic" for its own good.
To the contrary, it's SCOTT PILGRIM’s colorful, offbeat, and
effervescent liveliness that makes it stand out. After awhile, it’s next to impossible to not find the film
kind of oddly infectious. That,
and it's not all style for the sake of putting something expressive of
screen. The film has a droll
sophistication and intelligence with the material: It intuitively understands its targets, but it also knows how to
poke fun and mock them with a good natured and level heart.
better? This is a film that
takes place in my home country of Canada (Toronto, to be precise) and instead of engaging in
ham-invested cultural stereotypes and crude jokes, SCOTT PILGRIM makes its
modestly fabled Ontario settings become a side character itself.
The snow-covered cityscape is home to the title hero (Michael Cera),
a 23-year-old bass guitarist rocker for the amusingly named “Sex
Bob-omb” that is a real softy at heart.
He lives with his homosexual roommate (played with an urbanity and
slickly relaxed coolness by Kieran Culkin) and has a 17-year-old high
school-attending girlfriend (Ellen Wong).
Despite his bandmates protesting his dating of a girl that they
think is too young, Scott still remains a fixture in the girl’s life.
Even though Scott believes the relationship is getting serious, it
is actually hilariously chaste: the couple have not had sex, nor have they
even kissed. Hell, they have
not even held hands yet…but they came close.
night changes everything for Scott. While attending a party he locks eyes
with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, effortlessly mixing low key
sex appeal, sassiness, adorability, and a sardonic wit and edge) and he's instantly
fixated. His early attempts
at wooing her are total failures, but he does learn through a source that
she is a Yankee that has moved up to Canada and is now a delivery girl for
Amazon (.ca, not .com!). Scott
hatches a plan: he places an
order with the online merchant and will wait by the door as long as
humanly possible for her to deliver the package so he can ask her out.
Well, they do meet again, and despite the awkwardness of his
invite, she begrudgingly agrees to spend an evening with him.
Very slowly and very surely, Ramona begins to open up to Scott and
they both look on the verge of a tangible relationship.
is at this precise point where the film makes a sharp and sudden detour
into its fantasy trappings. Scott
soon learns, to his horror and incredulity, that he not only must win over
Ramona’s love, but he also must…uh…defeat all of her seven – count
‘em…seven! – very evil ex-boyfriends (make that six boyfriends and
one bi-curious female friend) in single, STREET FIGHTER-esque street battles that are amped up to the level of that bombastic and crazed video
game. I am not exaggerating
here at all. Scott’s epic
confrontations with his enemies are like living, breathing video games:
the laws of physics are ignored, gravity is totally defied, and characters (including Scott) are able to launch and hurl themselves into
the air like Neo from THE MATRIX while brandishing magical weapons or
unforeseen super powers. When
Scott defeats an ex, they are not just kissing pavement, but they literally
explode into hundreds of coins that Scott then captures in the form of points.
he has accumulated enough he will be able to fight the final “big
boss” that will allow him to wrap the game, so to speak, and win the
chance to date Ramona.
final boss in question is actually a slimy executive working for the same
record label that may or may not have an interest in sponsoring Scott’s
rock group. He is Gideon Graves
(Jason Schwartzman, having fun playing a categorical sleazy jerk), who
represents the one ex that has the most Svengali like power over Ramona.
The other exes that Scott must battle before Gideon are a riotously
funny motley crew. I will not
spoil all of the fun of revealing them all, but my single favorite would be the third evil ex, Todd Ingram (a surprisingly
hysterical Brandon Routh, most recently the Man of Steel himself in SUPERMAN
RETURNS) that happens to be the bass guitarist for one of
Scott’s ex’s band, THE CLASH OF DEMONHEAD.
Todd is a vegan and has very special psychic vegan
abilities and powers that Scott has no apparent defenses against.
Scott does discover Todd's kryptonite: he tricks him into drinking half
and half (that – gasp! – includes dairy products), which leaves Todd
permanently stripped of his abilities.
Oh…Todd is also arrested by…yup…the Vegan Police that, after
disposing of him, give themselves a ceremonial high five.
PILGRIM is…like…so unattainably weird…but the more I sat through it
the more I was willing to be taken away in its pageantry of ludicrousness.
The film, beyond its inherent nuttiness, also has moments of
devious satire. There is one
sequence where Scott returns home to his crummy apartment that is
clearly a send-up of TV sitcoms, even going as far as using the SEINFELD
theme and laugh track. Then
there is a running gag that makes a funny stance on the hypocrisy of the
MPAA itself: one character in the film clearly throws out F-bombs left and
right, but her enunciation is warped and her lips are obscured by a black box every time she utters the
foul word . We know she is saying it, but it’s censored in such a way to
ensure SCOTT PILGRIM’s PG-13 rating while simultaneously maintaining the
word’s edge in the dialogue. Very,
film is not meant, though, to be vulgar: it’s just too madcap,
speedy, and playful with its look and feel.
The film was directed by Edgar Wright, who is no stranger to
hilarious send-ups (he made the funniest film about zombies in SHAUN
OF THE DEAD as well as a very smart and savvy homage to action
film overkill in HOT FUZZ) and here he
takes his own self-anointed passion for comic books, video games, and pop
culture to a whole new level. Using
cinematographer Bill Pope (THE MATRIX trilogy), Wright lovingly evokes the
world and universe of O’Malley’s magna series with such a nitpicky eye
for detail, so much so that shots and scenes themselves look ripped right off of the
artists’ page. SCOTT
PILGRIM is a absolute triumph of visual design and editing: screen formats
and aspect ratios frequently morph and change at will; split screens
are used to reflect the comic books origins of the source material;
effects are cranked up, altered and modified; and subtitles, text,
graphical icons, and motion lines are playfully splashed all over the
screen, suggesting the video games that influence it.
This film is just alive.
Finally…shove this up you mind: has there ever been a less likely action hero/romantic leading man in movie history than Michael Cera? He’s meek-looking, soft-spoken, insecure and has a sort of ordinary, everyday reticent charm and awkward, puppy dog vulnerability (that, and he is a self-deprecating master of carefully timed deadpan banter). In the film he plays both earthy, sincere, and reserved, but when required he’s a one-man, drop kicking, sword slicing, guitar licking, ass kicking squad. Yet, for as visually ostentatious and frantic as the visuals are in SCOTT PILGRIM, Cera still manages to infuse a tenderness and heroic soul into its brazenly mythical, over-the-top theatrics. Yes, Wright’s distillation of O’Malley’s source material will be very hard for many lay filmgoers to handle, to be sure, but for those shrewd enough to have both lived through and experienced the wired-in MTV, Nintendo age as well as understanding the visual dynamism of comic books, then SCOTT PILGRIM will be appreciated on a cult level for its breathless, unleashed imagination and free-spirited, let’s-do-anything panache. The film lunges out with a reverence for its influences and empowers itself with an unmatched idiosyncratic quirkiness…and heart…let’s not forget that. After all, Mr. Pilgrim is just a twenty-something that’s just trying to fall in love. He just has much, much harder obstacles in the way.