Action/Adventure / Comedy / Films

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

By the time of Scott Pilgrim‘s release in 2010, Edgar Wright had already made a name for himself as brilliant action/comedy director. His previous films with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – had been quintessentially English-comedies and near perfect parodies of their respective genres – zombie movies and cop dramas; both movies do an excellent job of subverting their tropes and both come with a clear love for the material. It’s obvious that Wright – like Tarantino, or Peter Jackson – is a director raised on movies with a great love for genre and style. Adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s epic seven comic Scott Pilgrim saga seemed like a fitting next step; the comics are clever, play with genre, and are born from pop-culture – exactly what Wright works best with. The movie was released with a stellar cast in 2010 and unfortunately, didn’t break the box-office. It did however far very well on home video, and in recent years, has become something of an oft-quoted cult classic for 20-somethings. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not only one of the funniest movies made in recent years, it’s by far one of the best comic book adaptations of all time.scott pilgrim castBryan Lee O’Malley’s comics span seven large issues – the majority of which is condensed here into one movie, with the title taken from the second story. Set in Toronto, the film follows 20-something layabout Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who plays bass with the Sex-Bob-Ombs, alongside Steven Stills (Mark Webber), Kim Pine (Alison Pill) and Young Neil (Johnny Simmons). Pilgrim, who lives with gay-roomate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) is still reeling from a terrible break-up with Envy Adams (Brie Larson) who left him when her band, The Clash at Demonhead, became a success. Feeling low, Scott begins dating high-school girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) before meeting the enigmatic Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). To get anywhere with Ramona however, Scott needs to fight and defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, played, in ascending order, by Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Shota and Keita Saito, and finally Jason Schwartzman.scott piglrimIt’s a complicated plot, but presented simply – the film borrowing mechanics from video games and structuring itself as a series of ascending levels. Only with the sixth ex does the film begin to feel a bit bloated, but even then, Wright directs the movie with such fantastic kinetic energy that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the proceedings, and the film flies with pacing. The opening – as covered in the Top 10 Movie Opening Sequences – is outstanding, and right off the bat, with the Universal scroll scrolling by in nostalgic 8-bit, the tone is set for what’s to come. Computer game references, great music, and high-energy, combined with go-hard-or-go-home infectious directing. The movie never lets up – Wright crafts some excellent fight sequences, keeping the tone light throughout, the silliness of the situation part of the movie’s charm. There are numerous game Easter eggs throughout – Sex-Bob-Omb coming from Mario, The Clash of Demonhead being an old NES game. This is a movie born of pop-culture and the repeated video game references throughout – Zelda, Tetris, arcade dance games, versus screens, extra lives, boss battles with coin victories – are a wonderful backdrop, and both revered and parodied at the same time. The games the movie references tend to be of the SNES era which makes Scott Pilgrim a remarkably nostalgic movie for those in the audience the same age as its cast and characters; Scott Pilgrim is made of 20-somethings who grew up playing Mario and Sonic and feels like a love letter to that time period. No other actual video-game movie has captured this sense of what video-games were about.scott pilgrimThe film has further appeal to the 20-something demographic, which goes to explain how it became such a cult favourite amongst that age range. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with which Scott Pilgrim shares a self-depreciating and knowing sense of humour) the movie works on metaphor, and translates common 20-something issues into visual form and threat. As in Buffy, where we had high school as hell, here we have ex-boyfriends as evil figures who must be vanquished. There’s also ‘he gets into my head….literally’ with Ramona and her ex’s, which is very clever, as is Ramona’s literal ability to teleport – fitting for a character who likes to run away. Not to read too much into the movie, but it plays into the 20-something dater’s fear of a dealing with a new relationship’s baggage. This comes entirely from O’Malley’s brilliant comic, but Wright captures the ideas perfectly. For a silly, comic book style fight movie, the film is remarkably astute when it comes to the lives of lost 20-somethings, with their little to non existent employment, endless parties, and all the casual and semi-serious flings of those years. The treatment of relationships in particular is very spot-on, and it’s easy to see why Scott Pilgrim became such a cult classic – it’s simply, very easy to relate too, the metaphors perfectly capturing how it feels to date in your 20s. scott11And it’s a very smart movie. Working with a kind of magical realism (fights occur randomly, noone really dies despite getting thrown through walls etc) but grounding itself with a self-knowing style of humour; the best example being Scott’s sister’s (Anna Kendrick’s) confused ‘what?’ when the first fight kicks off. There’s use of on-screen text boxes, Batman inspired described fight sounds, and even scenes which play out twice after a few meta tricks. The characters are rather flippant about the situation, which again mirrors Buffy, with jokes about email invites to fights for example, and a constant metathreatical slant to all the proceedings. The characters know what is happening is ridiculous, and that’s part of what makes the movie so charming. Wright does an excellent job of adapting the comic book form to screen and plays with structure, on-screen visuals and the fourth-wall; nothing in this movie happens realistically, but it all works within its own zany comic book world, and the impressive, never-limited by the screen visuals help keep up the frantic and crazy energy. There are numerous visual gags, Easter eggs and on-screen treats throughout.scott8It’s helped by beautiful cinematography and lovely, snow-capped shots of Toronto, which really feels like a fully breathing world here; an idealised and fantastically version of the real thing. Scott Pilgrim is a beautiful movie to look at, crisp and clear with wonderful details. All of this is helped by the use of music throughout, most of which is original. Beck scored the movie to excellent effect and Scott Pilgrim almost works as a rock musical, with some great numbers by the Sex-Bob-Ombs (the cast playing their own instruments) and the other bands throughout – Crash and the Boys’ hilarious parody of emo-angst songs is brilliant for example. Music is important to the film, and with the numerous bands on display, you get the feeling of being in a young, happening city with a lot going on. Even the incidental music is great – charming and whimsical when it needs to be, but kinetic and crazy during the battles, and there’s fantastic use of The Legend of Zelda‘s Fairy Theme and other video game chimes, which is a great audio-nod to fans of gaming. Another highlight is the jazzed up version of Scott’s own terrible ‘Ramona’ song which plays over the credits. ramona flowersIt helps that the film is absolutely hilarious. Clever plot metaphors and brilliant visual gags give way to utterly hilarious dialogue. In terms of laughs per-minute, this movie never lets up, and though a lot of the dialogue is taken verboten from O’Malley’s comic, it translates perfectly to screen. There’s an outlandish surrealism to the dialogue -‘He punched a hole in the moon for me. It was pretty crazy’ – which makes Scott Pilgrim extremely quotable. Post a status on Facebook with a line from this movie and watch how many people like it. It’s an extremely witty and well-written movie. The film takes a shrewd look at current ‘hipster’ or ‘edgy’ culture and is smart to parody the self-important world these 20-year olds live in, but as with Shaun and Fuzz, Wright is never nasty, and so the movie remains charming and endless appealing. The humour is the film’s strongest feature, and makes Scott Pilgrim incredibly rewatchable, a Ghostbusters for the modern audience (as with Buffy, Pilgrim shares a lot of style and ideas with Ghostbusters).? Of course, the movie is helped by the incredible cast. Scott Pilgrim boasts an impressive young ensemble and literally everyone here displays impeccable comic timing; everyone leaves a mark, even those who aren’t on screen for very long. There’s a sense of getting amazing actors in for the smallest of roles. Highlights include Alison Pill’s deadpan Kim (who gets some brilliant sardonic lines) and Culkin’s Wallace Wells, who steals the show with his sarcastic jokes. It’s nice to have an openly gay character who’s homosexuality isn’t an issue to the plot in any way, and the film is remarkably progressive with Wells, who remains one of the most memorable and fun gay characters to ever appear on screen. He’s loveable. Ellen Wong is sweet and aggressive simultaneously, again, getting some lovely lines but coupled with nice character growth, and Anna Kendrick is funny as Scott’s sister. It’s fitting that most of this cast went on to begin very successful careers after Scott Pilgrim. All of the League of Evil Ex’s are on top form – each bringing something new, so that their section feels like a mini-movie in their own right. Particular highlights include Bhabha’s Mathew Patel, Routh’s Vegan-pyschic Todd, Evan’s action parody hero and of course, Schwartzman’s edgy but ridiculous ringleader. If there was a criticism to be thrown at the movie, it’s that it perhaps should have been split into two. The ex’s all take up a great deal of time, and though the pacing is generally spot on, the movie does drag slightly towards the end, especially when we hit the twins. As a whole product however, Wright and co. do a remarkably good job of adapting seven stories into one feature, and with the film’s box-office it’s likely a second movie would never have actually been made, had it been split. So we’re lucky we got what we did.scott pilgrimThe two mains are great too. Michael Cera, if you’ve read the comics, could seem a little miscast, but the actor does a remarkable job of portraying Scott, with all his insecurities and occasionally acts of dickheadness. Cera, coming from Arrested Development, of course has amazing comic timing and crucially, is always likable. In a lesser actor’s hands, Scott would have come across as a bit of an arse, and Cera thankfully negates this with his wonderfully witty, silly performance. We like him, and we root for him. He makes for a great lead and surprising hero, and not only that, the character is given chance to learn and grow throughout the movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona is a kind of parody of enigmatic hipster chicks but perfectly captures the sense of a smart, individualistic girl who has some serious baggage. She’s dabbled in being a bitch, but wants to change and is making progress; we never quite get to know Ramona, but that’s kind of the point. She’s a girlfriend to be earned, and there is certainly a lot more to her than meets the eye. Winstead is sexy and charming in the role, tinging her performance with hints of a troubled past, and primarily, she’s an enigmatic and myseterious centre which drives the plot. Both Ramona and Scott grow during the movie, and even if the characters aren’t meant to be together forever, they both learn a lot through each other. Their closing moments are charming.scott10Scott Pilgrim is a fantastic comic book movie, and one of the best comedies of recent years. It’s a fitting and sly look into 20-something life, pop culture, and video games, and very fitting for a 2013 audience who grew up in the 90s. A cult classic and a movie which will be forever revered by those who love it – a definite must for everyone’s DVD shelf and one to watch on a regular basis.

5/5

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2 thoughts on “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Movie Opening Sequences | Some Films and Stuff

  2. Pingback: LGBT Representation in Cinema | Some Films and Stuff

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