If we are to believe the hype for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” it’s the film that blows your socks off, represents an entire generation, steals your girlfriend and knocks her up, makes you see God and is, without a doubt, the best movie since the invention of the moving image. I, however, lack the gift for crafting good hyperbole that some of my peers have so I will simply say that it is a really, really great movie.
But it’s not for everyone.
Directed By Edgar Wright, “Scott Pilgrim” is the frenetically fast-paced tale of slacker and Sex Bob-Omb bassist Scott Pilgrim. Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera, falls in love with a bright haired and beautiful American delivery girl, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. But to win her heart he has to defeat the League of her Seven Evil Exes.
The plot does seem basic and in some ways it is. It’s based on several NES brawler games, thus follows the familiar structure of defeat the level boss, move on to the next level, wash, rinse, repeat. And if ever there were a movie that feels like a video game, it’s this one. Enemies burst into coins when defeated and in-screen graphics show us how much health the bosses have left. It is unique amongst films that are video game inspired in that it actually acknowledges where it came from rather than try to exist in some mythical “real” world.
Having been a fan of Edgar Wright’s for a long time, I have always wondered what he could get done on a larger budget. His two previous films, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” showed amazing promise but there is always that nagging doubt that once a director goes mainstream that they’ll succumb to the base instinct to go BIGGER and LOUDER. Wright thankfully avoids that trap and simply builds on his already considerable skill. This is most apparent in Scott’s battles with the Seven Evil Exes. The fights are shot with all the exaggeration and speed that you would expect from a comic book fight, but he also wisely chooses to leave some things to the imagination. I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite fight out of all seven, but the second fight with Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) was particularly grin inducing. Evans is completely aware his job is to send up pretty boy action stars but he still manages to be charming at the same time.
Evil Exes aside, Wright has done an admirable job of populating the world of “Scott Pilgrim.” All of the actors, from the briefest cameo of the Vegan Police and the lead singer to Crash and the Boys, to supporting players Sex Bob-Omb guitarist Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and even internet whipping boy himself Michael Cera, nail their respective parts and make the film hugely entertaining. Cera displays good range as Scott, going from lovable goof to pissed off slacker to-dare I say it-actual action star, all within approximately 20 minutes.
And true to the film’s Toronto music scene backdrop, “Scott Pilgrim” has one of the best soundtracks of the last 10 years. Beck provided the tracks for the film’s lead band, Sex Bob-Omb, and they sound exactly like they should; a distortion favouring garage band that might make it big some day. Additional tracks by Metric and Broken Social Scene give the film a natural musical depth. Songs aren’t jammed in to get the bands some playtime, but serve the film’s story.
But for all it’s fun, my biggest criticism of “Scott Pilgrim” is that it never really sold me on the love story that the whole film hinges upon. In the books, Scott and Ramona’s relationship unfolds over the course of a year. You intimately get to know each character and have as much an stake in them working things out as they do. In this film, the romance appears to take place over a week. Scott and Ramona go from their first date to “I love you’s” in about 15 minutes. Subsequently instead of his love for Ramona being essential for Scott to defeat the Evil Exes, it simply becomes a device to get him to go from one ex battle to another. As it stands all of the other elements of the films are strong enough to make up for this, but as a fan of graphic novels I felt strongly that the emotional hook that makes “Scott Pilgrim” unusual amongst comics was missing.
That said, I’m sure that all of you who grew up on Legend of Zelda, Dragon Ball, the Streetfighter series, and comics post-Frank Miller will love this movie. But I wonder how everyone else will feel. So much of the humour in Scott Pilgrim hedges on having at least a rudimentary knowledge of what we could call “nerd” culture-internet, underground bands, comics, and, of course, video games. It’s what made the Scott Pilgrim comics such a cult success. But it may make this film seem unwatchable for anyone who wasn’t a teen post-1980, or who simply has their head buried in the sand.
A few of my peers have deemed “Scott Pilgrim” the film of our generation and while I wouldn’t go that far, I do think that this will be a divisive film that will get people talking. There will be those who “get” it, and respond enthusiastically to the story and the cultural references. Then there will be those that may appreciate the technical skill of the shoot or the acting, but are at a loss for why “Scott Pilgrim” seems to have so many fans. Whether you think you’ll side with the former or the latter, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is a film that’s worth checking out, if only to be able to join in to the debate that should rage on for many months to come.
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza and Alison Pill, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” will be released Aug. 13. in the meantime, click HERE to see six clips from the movie
. . .
Follow H.G. Watson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HGWatson7.