Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World might not be able to light up the box office in the present, but in 10-15 years from now, this film would have established itself as a cult hit or better yet, it will solidify its title as the defining movie of the Nintendo generation. Edgar Wright has taken the tale of Scott Pilgrim and created one of the most exhilarating, flashy, heartfelt, honest, original mainstream films out there. We may only be eight months into 2010, but this film has already established itself as one of the best of the year.

Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film follows the main character by the name of Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera), a 22-year old slacker/goof who lives in the “mysterious land of Toronto, Canada.” While he has yet to land a regular job in his life, he does have a gig as the bassist of the punk band Sex Bob-omb. Don’t be fooled by his sheepish looks and shaggy hair, the man does have his way with the ladies… most of the time. He does have the looks of an innocent puppy, so it’s no surprise that girls dig that. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend Envy Adams (Brie Larsen), he goes after a 17 year-old high school girl by the name of Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). One day he meets the girl of his dreams (literally in his dreams) by the name of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and he decides to pursue her without properly dumping Knives, much to the disapproval of his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) and his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin). After a slow start (note to all the guys – never use the origins of Pac-Man as your pick-up line), the two hit it off and the relationship started to blossom. There is one issue though. In order for him to continue to go out with Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes. If he defeats them all, he’ll get to be with Ramona. However, if he loses, he’ll be dead.

What’s so amazing about this movie is that it doesn’t assume that every time someone finds love, it’s like they’re falling in love for the first time. Unlike many chick flicks out there, it goes over the scars left from breakups and explores the combustible emotions that arise from it. Not only does it take into account the hurt feelings of past failed relationships, there’s also a glimpse at the looming struggles of maintaining the current one. While it would have been nicer to have more light moments between Scott and Ramona, it’s refreshing to have a movie focus on the struggles and the fight to keep a relationship alive rather than to dwell on the sappy cuddly moments of early love. Without sounding too preachy or too sappy, the fights are literal in the sense there are punches, kicks and sword fights. It’s a nice way to get the message out there while keeping everyone entertained with the action sequences. So unlike films like The Expendables, you’re not thrown into a world of mindless action. Instead while we gloss over the stunning visuals, we are left with something to think about later on.

Speaking of the action sequences, they are a wonder to behold. They are martial arts battles infused with rock music with a big video game touch to it. It is one of the most fun combination you can find out there. In fact, to add to the already offbeat sequences, there’s a fun Bollywood number attached to the fight against the first evil ex Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha). It might sound bizarre, but this movie thrives on the sheer creative insanity.

It’s also surprisingly amusing to watch Michael Cera being thrown into the middle of all these fights. With his scrawny physique, he would be the last person you expect to take on all these fights yet it seems to work in this film and the fights are fun to watch.

Edgar Wright has described this movie as a musical, except that instead of breaking out into song and dance, characters break out into fights when the emotions run high. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The fights are essentially like the musical numbers. They’re wonderfully choreographed and edited. The only major difference is that instead of having everyone standing in a funky pose once the music stops, someone gets beat up and turns into a thousand coins.

Another impressive aspect of the film is that it combines the different genres out there and manages to nail every single one of them. It’s a comedy-action-adventure-musical-romance film. On the surface it looks like a film that would only appeal to geeks or nerds, but it is in fact something that can appeal to many groups out there.

The movie achieves so much within its short running time. With six comic books crammed into a movie, the pace of the film is fast and relentless. The amazing thing is that, Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall managed to condense all that and still maintain an impressively faithful live action adaptation. Not only were they successful in capturing the essence of O’Malley’s work, but Edgar Wright also infuses a bit of his own quick paced style into the movie. The end combination is ADHD filmmaking at its best as scenes jump back and forth and all over, yet we can still happily follow along.

This brings up another point worth mentioning. The editing in this film is phenomenal. The scenes in this film shifts effortlessly at a dizzying rate that you barely even know that it’s happening. Some of the action packed sequences looks like it was all done in one take despite being several shots put together. There are other times when a single interaction of dialogue can shift location several times yet it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

With the two romantic leads, the seven evil exes and all of Scott’s friends, there is a pretty big cast in the movie. With the time constraints, it is difficult to provide character development for all yet the movie somehow manages to make them all distinct in some sort of way. It also helps that there’s the sight gag of having pop up boxes during the introduction of every new character at the beginning of the film. The standout performance among the supporting cast is Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells. Not only does he get some of the best lines in the movie, he also pulls off being a jerk yet being a likable character. Ellen Wong also does a fantastic job as the naïve 17 year old Knives Chau. She manages to capture the wide-eyed innocence of a teenager and throw in the uninhibited nature of a teen that knows no boundaries. Finally there’s Michael Cera. He does have a set of mannerisms that might be off-putting to some but he fits the roll of Scott Pilgrim very well. You can hate him all you want but he does have a knack for great comedic timing. He might be typecast as the dorky underachiever but this movie has the added bonus of giving his character a backbone.

The witty and quirky dialogue is littered with awesome one-liners that you’ll be quoting endlessly after you leave the theatre. While there are many jokes that appeal to those who are keen in pop culture (like a dig at filmmaking in Toronto), there are also plenty of moments that should generate plenty of laughter among all.

I’ve never been a huge fan of indie music, but the soundtrack to this movie deserves just as much praise as the film itself. Beck contributes a few tracks to the film by lending a few of his tracks as Sex Bob-omb compositions. The songs capture the grungy garage band sound and they’re very enjoyable to listen to. Broken Social Scene provided some nice comedic touches with their short tracks as Crash and the Boys. The standout track goes to Metric, who provided an amazing, catchy and pulsating song for the band Clash at Demonhead, who’s headed by Scott’s ex-girlfriend Envy.

From the moment the film began with its 8-bit introduction, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World just kept going and it felt like it was never going to run out of gas. That is, until the end. That is not to say the ending is horrible since it does match with the conclusion of the final comic book, however it just felt like it didn’t flow very well with the film as a whole. Edgar Wright had an entirely different ending in mind while making the film since the filming process took place before the release of the final Scott Pilgrim comic, so it felt like he took out the final piece of the puzzle and replaced it with something that fits, but not as well.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an inventive action comedy/romance movie that fuses great indie music with video games, comics and awesome pop culture references. Underneath all the flashy visuals and quirky dialogue holds something much deeper. The story of Scott Pilgrim looks into complicated times of being a youth in today’s society. From the struggles of self-discovery to finding love, these topics are tackled all within its 112 minute running time. Yes, this is a rare film where you can witness a character’s emotional catharsis by having a sword popping out of his chest, but this film is simply another coming-of-age story. That being said, by the time you leave the theatre, you’ll swear you’ve never seen anything like this before.

Rating: ★★★★☆ + 1/2


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