Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Ellen Wong, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick
Edgar Wright has brought us his own fantastic interpretations of the zombie film, the Michael Bay action film, the sitcom, and even the grindhouse horror film, or at least a trailer for one. Now he jumps into the graphic novel world with his big screen rendition of the graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s a running joke on our CineGeek Webcast that I’m not a fan of relationships. The truth is I like relationships done on film if they are done in an interesting way, something not so formulaic and predictable. Hell even if they’re done formula if the movie is really great I can still enjoy it. So, to better put it on the nose, I hate Pretty Woman but I like Sixteen Candles. For a more modern example I hate The Proposal but I really liked Up in the Air.
Going into Scott Pilgrim not only was I not expecting much from a teen relationship flick but I’m also a little tired of Michael Cera’s shtick. It’s not entirely his fault because after his successes in Arrested Development and Juno a whole crop of imitators have started popping up in films. So, when I dropped into my seat in the theater my expectations were low.
The story here is pretty basic: Scott meets a girl named Ramona who has seven “evil ex’s” that he must defeat in order to date Ramona. Also, Scott’s 22 and currently dating a 17 year old Asian girl named Knives that he must break up with. At its core the story is a fairly predictable one, it has a few parts coming of age and a few parts formulaic romance. But, slathered on top of that is a layer of anime and videogame influenced fantastical and acerbic humor that makes the movie pop right from scene one. The first act of the film is as visually aggressive as you’d expect a live action videogame/anime/graphic novel to be. There are tons harsh cuts with a character starting a line in one scene talking to one character only to finish the line in a totally different location speaking to a totally different character. While nearly all of it is hilarious it can come off a bit disorienting at times. By the end of the first act though this style sort of finds its pace and the movie is much stronger for the dialing back it does. Visuals are constantly extreme throughout but at the same time they’re more precisely rendered within the story. The truth is though, the movie runs about 15 minutes too long.
Complaints aside though this movie is a truly special one. Each generation gets at least one movie that truly grabs on to its members in some way. The 80’s generation was lucky because John Hughes was able to do that a few times with movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The 90’s had Reality Bites and Singles, two movies I hate by the way. No it’s not quite as great as the Hughes films were but Scott Pilgrim should be a film mentioned as a definer of the era and the generation. Scott Pilgrim grabs onto 20-something aimlessness while exposing the influence of modern pop culture on the age group. Scott has no job, no life really. He’s stuck mentally in his high school days playing videogames and dating a high school girl. It’s only when he meets a girl his own age dealing with her own issues by the way, that he realizes how stuck he truly is. His epiphany is hilarious and brilliantly tied into the videogame culture that is used to constantly push the story forward.
Yes the core of the story is absolutely predictable from the moment the movie starts but the journey from beginning to end is nothing short of gut busting, action packed, visually stunning, and even a little poignant here and there. Edgar Wright jumped into this genre feet first and he landed nearly perfectly. The movie is too long but not due to the story but due to the extensive fights. They’re great throughout and hilarious but by the time the battle of the amps begins it feels like the movie should have been coming to an end. Speaking of the fights all of the tropes of the action fighting game are in place for fans from boss fights to the one character that escapes only to reappear for final fight later to the final battle, which is also brilliant. The movie runtime is 1 hour and 52 minutes and it could have been painlessly trimmed here and there until it hit the 1 hour and 35 minute mark. This review also requires mention of the music which plays just as important part in the story as the videogame theme. The angsty pop punk tunes fit the visuals and themes perfectly but the Pixies, and more importantly T.Rex and The Rolling Stones feel a little out of place. At least the T.Rex and Pixies tunes were quirky but the Rolling Stones tune was way too on the nose for the scene.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World features a stellar main cast (yes even Michael Cera doing his thing was good) but along with the ensemble there were some outrageously funny cameos from Brandon Routhe and Chris Evans. I’ve seen more of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s films than I realized (Live Free or Die Hard, Death Proof, Final Destination 3, Sky High, The Ring Two) but this is the one where I walk remembering her. She was fun in Live free or Die Hard but she’s quirky, weird, and charismatic in Scott Pilgrim making her a stand out. Finally Kieran Culkin is quickly becoming the Casey Afleck of the Culkin brood. He gets the small roles where he proves that he’s a more layered and capable actor than his brother (and I actually like Ben Afleck in some movies). Fans of videogames, of graphic novels, of coming of age stories, and even of light quirky romance should all check this movie out.