I don’t even know how to start this.
It’s rare that some major aspect of a film doesn’t leap out as I go to compose a review, begging to be dismantled or jeered or championed. I had no such luck here. Two days have gone by while I sat here, trying to come up with an introduction that does this film justice. I never did find one, so I’ll be as simple as possible.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is spectacular.
“Spectacular” in every sense of the word. Spectacular in that it is a loud, explosive, awe-inspiring epic (of epic epicness; not to sell out or anything, but it’s so totally true) that clips along beautifully, taking just enough time between each hilarious moment and developing characters so that we literally can’t wait for the next massive, graphic set piece. Spectacular in that it is one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had, bar none. I mean that in the sense of best of all time. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a movie. It has been years.
And not to say that Scott Pilgrim is the best film ever made; that’s a little crazy and not my point. The film has its flaws: for one, while the story is funny, reverential to its subject matter, referential and, above all, extremely upbeat, it does lack real motivation. You never feel like in the battle of Scott Pilgrim v. World, et. al., that Scott Pilgrim might be the loser – or for that matter, that there’s anything that demands he participate in said struggle.
But in a tribute to its source material and the video gaming culture from which Scott Pilgrim draws life, that’s not really the point. What heart-wrenching reason does Mario have for kicking turtle ass on his trek from castle to castle, searching for some (pixilated and) faceless princess? None other than that we would really enjoy it if he did, thank you very much.
Scott Pilgrim takes on the world, in the form of Seven Evil Exes that he must battle in order to win the right to date his dream girl, too-cool-for-school hipster-with-colored-hair Ramona Flowers. For no other reason, perhaps, than that we will enjoy it.
And enjoy it we do. Thank you very much.
I was skeptical about Michael Cera in the titular role (no, he doesn’t play The World), seeing as he’s become a ludicrously skinny, mop-headed hipster archetype with a really airy, highish voice. I’ve been known to be one Cera’s biggest advocates (his work on “Arrested Development” proves he could be destined to be a great one), but he’s ludicrously soft-spoken, and especially in Scott Pilgrim. It’s like the rest of the cast dared him to try to be inaudible whenever possible during this movie.
And yet it plays. In fact, it works almost like an in-gag; on the one hand is the quiet, somewhat-bumbling Scott, working through life as if it could knock him flat any moment. Juxtapose that with the actual villains who catapult Scott into high-flying wire fist-fights, sword duels, and multi-opponent kung-fu extravaganzas, where he routinely knocks them flat. Cera absolutely nails all of these moments. It’s remarkable. And it’s awesome.
The rest of the cast, too, is spot on, driving the “everything other than the fighting” direction of the movie. Most everyone else steers clear of any fighting – in fact, reactions from the other characters range from amazed to blasé, another joke in itself. And while I won’t discuss them all here, they all carry a comedic weight and timing that drives the movie extremely well. We’re not just watching crazy video game-inspired Matrix-esque comic battles, because these guys all really live in this crazy world too, and they have funny things to say about it as they try to deal with or accept the insanity (or ignore it, as the case may be).
And while the source material of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the multi-part graphic novel of various similar titles by Bryan Lee O’Malley is certainly deep and brilliant in its conception, give a round of applause for director Edgar Wright. Every single shot in this movie is stylish; every sound effect exactly what’s needed. This is Wright at his most perfect: it’s like sitting inside his head, watching his exact conception of the Scott Pilgrim story. Shawn of the Dead, Hott Fuzz, Spaced – all of them have been practice for this project, where Wright just gets so many elements exactly right.
His high-energy visuals couple with a camera style that routinely downplays the crazy CGI gags going on in the background (such as a point total drifting into the air from the final resting place of a defeated enemy or a giant “Ka-POW” ringing from a character’s jaw as it meets fist), keeping these many sight-gags and references only half in the frame. Big comic-book letters and video game cliches are just what happens in the Scott Pilgrim world, the camera style says. The characters and even the film crew being “over it” makes us laugh even harder.
In fact, all of Scott Pilgrim is both sight gag and joyous display; both a gentle jest on our 8-bit childhoods and a love letter to those many two-dimensional sprites of pop culture that influenced us all, one way or another. It is, at every single point, a great experience.
Nick Hurwitch, who sat next to me during the screening we caught at the San Diego International Comic Con 2010, referred to Scott Pilgrim as “generation-defining.” I wholeheartedly agree. Scott Pilgrim could (should) easily become to 2010 what Star Wars was to 1977. See this movie, and see it in a theater.