Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review
After the success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright suddenly found himself being tipped as one of Hollywood’s hot new talents. Being linked with numerous projects and countless scripts it seems the British director was spoilt for choice. Eventually he decided upon a movie based on a little-known, Manga influenced, Canadian comic book. A comic book about the adventures of a geeky, awkward twentysomething struggling with life, love and everything in between. Oh, and let’s not forget the video game inspired fight sequences. Was this the obvious choice? Well, not in a million years for most directors with a foot in the Hollywood door. Happily, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World turns out to be an inspired choice.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the bassist in the Canadian rock band “Sex Bob-Omb”. Struggling to find a record deal they spend most of their time either practising or entering competitions hoping to get noticed. Still reeling from the heartbreak of a previous relationship, we are introduced to Scott as he begins dating Asian school girl Knives Chau (Alison Wong). Heckled by his bandmates and his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) for dating a minor, he begins to have strange dreams involving a cute girl on roller skates with coloured hair.
As we meet these characters we are also introduced to the film’s strange visual style. Each character’s name is revealed not only in dialogue, but also by a comic book style caption box appearing on screen. Important sounds are also highlighted in onomatopoeia comic book fashion - being spelt out in CGI graphics. Other on screen graphics resemble sprites and icons from video games. Add to this a large dollop of manga-influenced imagery and you have the surreal world that our characters inhabit.
The plot is jolted forward by the arrival (on roller skates of course) of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Recognising her from his dream Scott becomes instantly besotted with her and, forgetting about his adolescent girlfriend, the two end up embarking on an unusual relationship. Unfortunately there turns out to be one problem: For their romance to continue, Scott Pilgrim must fight and defeat (in battles to the death no less) her Seven Evil Exes. There’s always a catch I guess.
This is going to be a Marmite point for most viewers. The make or break moment; especially for those unfamiliar with the source material. Once “Evil Ex Number One” flies through the roof of a concert hall and challenges our hero to mortal combat, you are going to either love or hate this film. Up until now, the visual style and tone of the film could be dismissed as quirky or offbeat. Yet from this energetic fight sequence onwards, Edgar Wright hits you square in the face with his love of video games, comic books and music and for those willing to accept its bizarre rules and logic there’s plenty to enjoy. Using many of the techniques he learnt on the fabulous Spaced – quick cutting, fast camera moves, buckets of surrealism – the film maintains a unique look and feel; this is not your average Hollywood blockbuster. The battles themselves are breathlessly entertaining. Playing out like a mixture of a martial arts action movie and every beat ‘em up video game from Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat, they are fun, visceral and incredibly inventive. The drawback to this is that those not well versed in the conventions and logic of these games are going to miss out on a lot of the references and enjoyment found therein.
As well at these visual flourishes there’s an incredible amount to like about Scott Pilgrim. Wright’s direction is assured and confident and the script is witty, intelligent and littered with some great lines. These are all delivered by a genuinely talented and engaging cast. After Superbad and Juno, Michael Cera has his loveable-geek shtick down to perfection, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly charming as the object of his affection. Elsewhere Kieran Culkin shows once again that he was always the talented one in the family. As Scott's gay best friend Wallace he gets a lot of the best lines and most of the big laughs. One of the most enjoyable parts of the film is seeing who will crop up next as one of the Seven Evil Exes. From Chris Evans to Brandon Routh, each brings something different to what are essentially extended cameos. To complete the package the whole affair is suitably topped off with a cracking rock electro soundtrack.
If there’s a problem with Scott Pilgrim it’s that, impressive as it is, the visual style and the frantic pace of the film often overpower the heart and emotion at the core of the story. During the final battle in particular, the action becomes so far detached from reality, we can no longer identify with anything that is happening. As a consequence it is difficult to maintain an emotional connection to the characters or even worry about how it resolves itself. By mimicking the world of 80s video games so completely it often resembles one of their most maligned aspects; at times seeming merely a non-interactive cut scene with plenty of flashing lights and no guarantee of a high score at the end. This is a genuine problem in a film revolving around the idea of fighting for something you love – especially when the relationship between Scott and Ramona never feels as genuine as it should. This is through no fault of the leads – both are likeable and charming on their own. They are just never given enough time together for the relationship to seem anything more than an infatuation on Scott’s part.
Despite these problems, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is still a resounding success. This is especially true for Edgar Wright. Given that all eyes are on him, eager to see what he can do with a big Hollywood budget and working without the safety net of Simon Pegg or Nick Frost, he has shown that he is one of the most talented and creative new directors working in the business at the moment. He has produced a film that is both original and exciting, deftly mixing character and action in equal measure. Whatever he decides to turn his attention to next should be eagerly awaited. Congratulations Mr Wright, collect 100 magic rings and proceed to Level 2.