Monday 16 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

I can completely understand how someone may not enjoy, and even completely dislike, Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It flashes by the eyes, sometimes pulling them in four or five directions at once, overloads the auditory senses and in its quieter moments has characters that aren't really that interesting or sympathetic. It's a video game inside a comic book inside a movie. Subtlety is not its aim.

So I understand that. However, I had great heaps of candy-coated fun with this movie. I laughed out loud numerous times, found that the pacing between scenes pulled me along effortlessly (though it felt a bit long towards the end) and came away completely satisfied. To be clear up front, I have no knowledge of the graphic novel on which the film is based. I've never even seen a hardcopy issue. Nor am I biased due to living in the city of Toronto where the film was shot and where it is set. Sure it was occasionally great to recognize many of the locations, but it never took precedence over the story or action. Admittedly, having at least a passing knowledge of video games helps a great deal in enjoying the battles between Scott and the "Seven Evil Exes", but there's no requirement to be a full on "geek" that some of the hype for the film has indicated. My recent knowledge of video games comes strictly through my 10-year old and it gave me ample background to get immersed in the hybrid world of Scott Pilgrim and all of his duels to the death.

When we meet Pilgrim at the beginning of the film, he's a 22-year old out of work schlub who plays bass in a band and can't get over a devastating break-up. He doesn't seem to think of anyone but himself, isn't very interesting and is dating a 17-year old high school girl simply because it's easy. So how does a guy like this get involved in head-to-head battles against villains with super human type powers? And why should the audience care? The first question is much easier to answer...Scott meets the fabulous Romona (played with extreme cool by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), acts like a total dweeb in front of her and hounds her for a date. When she accepts, mostly to shut him up, the die has been cast - Pilgrim soon finds out that he must do battle with every one of her previous romantic liaisons going all the way back to middle school. It's not a simple matter of simply throwing some punches or outwitting each one of them since his opponents have force fields, can hover in the air, read his thoughts, etc. Pilgrim finds that he too can do many of the acrobatic moves that comprise these boss-type battles, but always needs to rely on some additional smarts and information about his foes to defeat them (at which point they explode into a pile of coins). If the battles sound like they might get repetitive, each one brings in some new aspect that allows additional video game references and tactics to be used. As each battle started, I found myself settling a bit more in my seat and widening my grin. With points tallying up on the screen, 1-Ups occurring and new powers being won, it does feel a bit like you're watching your friend have a really long turn on the Nintendo Wii, but in the context of the film and the way that director Edgar Wright puts it all up on the screen it feels like a game that you just can't wait to take a crack at.

Given Pilgrim's unlikeable personality, though, that second question looms large - should we root for him? Early on, I was wondering the same thing, but Wright and his co-screenwriter Michael Bacall (who base their story on Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel) manage to keep you on Pilgrim's side using several different methods. One is by placing Pilgrim in this colourful comic book world that allows for additional information to come through in titles, helpful labels, frames within frames and other little pop-ups throughout. There's also the humour which zips in and out via visual cues, quick edits and character based moments (which all echo Wright's previous films). And finally there's Michael Cera's performance. If you're tired of Cera by now, this won't help change your mind, but if you can appreciate his skill at timing his verbal and facial reactions, you'll likely be able to give his character all sorts of leeway. Given how the story plays out and Romona's own reasons for going out with Pilgrim in the first place, I ended up being perfectly fine with the decision not to make him a typical sympathetic protagonist (I'm not sure how the original source depicts him). It's a tricky line to walk though.

The rest of the cast are marvellous as well: Kieran Culkin is a latter day Robert Downey Jr. (circa Back To School), but even better; Alison Pill plays the band's perpetually pissed off drummer; Ellen Wong channels a 17 year-old in serious crush mode; and so on and so on. Winstead is terrific as Romona, the slightly mysterious, gorgeous and obviously smarter than everyone else American girl trying to get away from her past. A raised eyebrow or small curl of her lip is about as much emotion as she shows for most of the film, but it's effective and makes you keenly aware why Scott has suddenly fallen for her (I'll admit it, so did I). The music is an additional driving factor for the movie. You don't really have to even watch the credits to know that Beck and Frank Black had ample influence on the music written for the film. It simply moves, moves, moves the action forward.

So if you were ever curious what a video game inside a comic book inside a movie feels like and you want to have a hugely entertaining time at the movies, Edgar Wright has the perfect Combo for you.


Vulnavia Morbius said...

This is my favorite wide-release movie of the summer, I think. I had so much fun at Scott Pilgrim that it covers a LOT of Hollywood's sins this year.

Bob Turnbull said...

I went to see it a second time (something I rarely do in the theatre) and enjoyed it almost as much. Haven't actually seen too many of Hollywood's releases yet this year...