Thu 12 Aug 2010
2010 is proving to be quite an interesting year for film. While the next few are sure to be dominated by mainstream comic book adaptations like “Thor”, “Captain America”, “Green Lantern”, “The Avengers”, and others, this year is all about the more indie/cult comics being given the big screen treatment. So far, “Kick-Ass” has already wowed the sadly limited audience that caught it in theaters (it’s on DVD now!) and for those select few who saw it, they know that it’s perhaps the best “comic book film” ever made (“The Dark Knight” wasn’t specifically based on a comic book storyline and was created solely by Christopher Nolan and company).
Well, now there’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the manga-esque books are centered on the titular Scott Pilgrim, an insecure, geeky, Canadian, self-absorbed, 22 year-old hopeless sad sack. He’s reeling from a break-up of over a year ago with Envy Adams, who’s gone on to front a hugely popular indie band named The Clash at Demonhead while his own band, Sex Bob-Omb, considers all their shows “secret”, as no one knows who they are. He dabbles in a not so serious relationship with Knives Chau, a 17 year-old Chinese girl who thinks Sex Bob-Omb is amazing and worships The Clash at Demonhead. Then things get complicated when Scott becomes obsessed with Ramona Flowers, a mysterious American girl who’s just moved to Toronto and is literally roller-blading through his subconscious. Standing in the way of their impending happiness are the seven evil exes Scott must defeat in battle.
Sound a little too hipster? A little too strange? A little too convenient? Well, it’s all of those and that’s okay. Director Edgar Wright has shown himself to be a master at applying a myriad of film conventions and genres to suit his needs and this may very well be the pinnacle of his career. Although I could argue that previous works like the British TV series “Spaced” or feature films “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” are sheer perfection (and they are), each project usually takes one or two components of popular culture and turns them on their ear.
With “Scott Pilgrim”, Wright throws everything including the kitchen sink into the mix and somehow manages to make it all coherent, gelling disparate elements like romantic comedy, over the top action, slapstick, melancholy indie sensibilities, video games, comic books, 60′s Batman style text titles for sounds, general pop culture, a hipster mentality and so much more. Working with editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Wright also uses a host of different techniques to connect character conversation and transition between changes in location, time and subconscious space. All of this, along with the fantastic fight choreography and sublimely matched special effects and cinematography serve to create a visual feast which will have your eyes scanning every background detail to see what Wright and team have included.
Now, for fans of O’Malley’s books, you should know that this isn’t a literal adaptation. The screenplay was written by Wright and Michael Bacall. However, while it does change a number of elements and drops a few sub plots, the core of the material is still front and center. Many scenes are ripped straight from the original pages and, as often as possible, Wright tried to utilize every visual cue in the books (right down to character T-shirt designs).
For the most part, the cast was well chosen. Evil exes 2 and 3 are my favorites (I don’t like spoiling things, hence I didn’t include them in the cast list) and although some of the true believers may not agree, I really enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s take on Ramona; as she’s the kind of woman I could become obsessed with quite easily (please, no restraining orders). The band mates of Scott’s were dead on, Ellen Wong makes a fantastic Knives Chau and Kieran Culkin’s portrayal of Wallace the gay roommate is nothing short of spectacular.
Sadly, the biggest problem in casting is the lead character himself. While Michael Cera looks a lot like his comic counterpart, the fit isn’t so exact. I should note bias here, as I’m not sure anyone could convince me that Cera has played one role any differently from another. It’s been George-Michael (“Arrested Development”) time and time again ever since I was made aware of his existence. Now, to the film’s benefit, the addition of having Scott Pilgrim be an amazing fighter added a dimension to the character that Cera pulled off well and helped to make it the least “Cera-like” performance to date.
Wright’s direction, the script and the other cast members mitigate the problems I had but casting an unknown probably would have been a much better way to go here, so as to allow audiences to carry no pre-conceived notions into the theater with them (and we’re all guilty of bringing in outside elements to every film with recognizable actors, we just hope the performances and material can make us forget it along the way).
Were I rating this based solely on Edgar Wright’s screenplay and direction, it would have been a perfect score. Cera’s inclusion and a somewhat stunted romantic ending (probably because it wasn’t the original plan in the screenplay) keep this from matching “Kick-Ass” in terms of rating but it’s a tremendously good time and I’ll be watching “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” over and over again, impatiently awaiting the Blu-ray release, and give the film a 4.5 out of 5. It’s a dizzying, frenetic ball of energy that’s one of the most unique films in years, sure to be appreciated by more than just the intended demographic.