Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
GEORGE OSBORN: “Despite a plot as flimsy as an A4 piece of paper and one dimensional characters, this is two highly entertaining hours of fresh and unique cinema.”
Dir.: Edgar Wright
2010 has seen the advent of the “Nerdbuster” as a big movie player. The rising star of the poindexters has been in the ascension ever since Kick Ass thrilled audiences earlier this year with its tale of superhero geeks battling with vigilantes and their own nerdish incompetence.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is cut from the same graphic novel cloth and aims to prove to Hollywood Studios that funding quirky films is a winner. Despite having a central plot as flimsy as an A4 piece of paper and one dimensional characters, Scott Pilgrim is two highly entertaining hours of fresh and unique cinema that gets away with problems that other films would be mercilessly slated for by being one key thing: fun, fun, fun.
To begin, it’s worth emphasising quite how badly the plot of the comics translates to the cinema. The six comics that the film are based on revolve around one central plot line that has been changed and reshaped a bit to suit the cinematic format better. Scott, played by Michael Cera, meets a mysterious girl called Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party and realises that she is the one for him. After tentatively dating her for a bit, he is forced to battle for her heart by “The League of Evil Exes”, seven super villains who happen to have dated Ramona at some point or another and are headed by her most recent ex, Gideon Graves. The entire plot revolves solely around Scott’s battles with the exes and, as a result, the good idea that had time to blossom in the comics gets crushed down to the bare necessities.
The result is twofold. First, the film is overly linear doing little more than rushing from A to B in the fastest time possible. Second, the characters fail to develop beyond mere caricatures. The exes barely get time to become interesting before they are ushered off screen again, Ramona seems like nothing more than a hot outsider and the genuinely interesting Wallace Wells and Stacey Pilgrim, played to great effect by Kieran Culkin and Anna Kendrick, are not allowed to steal as many scenes as they should do. Ultimately, in two very important areas, the film is average at best.
Yet despite these two major criticisms, Scott Pilgrim is also as much fun as watching a barrels worth of monkeys being taught how to ride on segways. There are three big obvious reasons for this. First, despite the reservations about characterisation and pacing, the script is excellent in injecting a sense of warmth and fun into the entire movie. There are excellent quips aplenty, the dialogue bites with a lovely comedic edge and the visual gags throughout are amongst some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, particularly when Scott seeks desperate measures to escape talking to an ex girlfriend.
Next, the cinematography throughout is an absolute treat. From the moment that the opening Universal Studios ident is rendered perfectly in 32 bit, Scott Pilgrim takes on the characteristic of a living and breathing computer game that feels both convincing and non-intrusive. For the geeks, there is a titanic nerdberg of game references to be found within which include, and probably aren’t limited to, Zelda, Super Mario 64, the Dance Dance Revolution series, Soul Calibur, Street Fighter and Wii battler No More Heroes. But if you don’t care about those in jokes, the film doesn’t try to exclude you. Instead, it eases you into the heavily stylised and, at times, dazzlingly exciting world of arcade beat em ups with lots of little jokes about “getting a life” or winning coins after defeating a foe. As a result, the film is stylistically unique, feels totally fresh and yet won’t exclude people who aren’t in on the jokes.
Last, the directorship of Edgar Wright is perfectly suited to drawing all these quirks together. By ensuring the running time is short, only 112 minutes, the constant stream of smaller jokes ensure that you are always smiling and the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes never threaten to outlive their welcome. Wright’s skill in putting normal people with normal lives in odd situations thrives in Scott Pilgrim and as a result the entire package feels like a cinematic version of Spaced: a simple story, well told and done so with the help of some instantly recognisable pop culture references. He is a perfect fit to the film and does exceptionally well with the material he’s been given to work with.
As a result, Scott Pilgrim’s success is ensured by a director who is capable of drawing the pure essence of fun out of the concept, telling the story well enough to keep it going and then presenting it to the audience in an extremely likeable manner. The weaknesses with the streamlining of the plot and characterisation are ultimately forgotten because the part of your brain that registers fun and humour is constantly satiated. That is to Scott Pilgrim’s credit. Too often, film makers forget that one of the main reasons for going to the cinema is to relax, unwind and, ultimately, have some fun so it’s a delight to watch a film that actually recognises that. If you are looking for that cerebral, thought provoking number that’ll be troubling the Oscar Shortlists then this isn’t for you. But if you want to go to the cinema and walk out of it smiling then a date to see Scott Pilgrim should be troubling your diary when it comes out on the 25th.