Scott Pilgrim Versus The World (2010)
I haven’t read the comic book. I didn’t like the trailer. Whilst I quite like Michael Cera – the one and only George Michael of one of the funniest TV programmes of the past ten years – I concur that he is hugely overexposed at the moment and his last three films Youth In Revolt, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Year One were uniformly terrible. I’m getting increasingly bored of comic-book movies. I have developed a deteriorating head cold – – all in all one would expect that the latest prog of graphic novel translation to the big screen Scott Pilgrim Versus The World would leave me unimpressed and dismissive considering the factors stacked against it, all things considered I quite liked this blithe and breezy, throwaway little effort when I caught it yesterday at the local flicks as it had just about enough gags and amusing references to pander to my inner nerd. I’ll confess I was hoping for a slightly more entertaining overall venture from one of the creative lynch-pins behind the mighty Spaced, whilst Scott Pilgrim does resemble an extended episode of that well-loved series filtered through the colander of US studio backing and a frosty Canadian locale, it doesn’t quite match the excellence of its European ancestor.
Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, an early twenty-something who shares his Toronto life with his gossip mongering sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), his gay roommate Wallace Wells (a faintly amusing Kieran Culkin) and his three friends and fellow band mates of ‘Sex Bob-omb’, the centrepiece of his professional life. Scott is controversially – at least socially speaking – dating his seventeen year old second generation Chinese girlfriend Knives Chau (I’m not kidding, that’s her name), a stop-gap measure to restore his romantic prowess following a devastating break-up with his one true love Envy Adams a year ago, a split prompted by her band finally making it to the big leagues. This triangle is further complicated when the beautiful Ramona (charisma vacuum Mary Elizabeth Winstead, she doesn’t get any good lines) enters his life and a halting relationship begins, an amour resulting in Scott’s characteristically immature dumping of Chau – all in all Pilgrim is a bit of an insensitive, selfish jerk throughout the film. As his romance develops the films dovetails into flourishes of geek inspired magical realism and a succession of fantastical superhero and video game structured duels with each of Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends – amongst them the likes of Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and a mucid Jason Schwartzman – must be conquered in order to win her heart and save the day.
The opening titles 8-bit rendered Universal logo and soundtrack gives you an induction of where this film is aiming to go. I suspect that your opinion of Scott Pilgrim Versus The World will depend on your opinion of people who wear ironic t-shirts, of people who reference Pixies tracks, of people immersed in video-game and otaku culture, of people for whom the phrase ‘emerald chocobos’ makes sense – alas I fall within some of these parameters and that is what made Scott Pilgrim a passably entertaining couple of hours, on the flip-side I can understand why that hipster whimsy has generated equal amounts of loathing – some people absolutely love Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach pictures, others cannot stand the sight of them and Scott Pilgrim bluffs its way into a similar canon. The film is stuffed with in-jokes cloned from geek and nerd cultural references, from the sly musical strands (including riffs on The Warriors and some early Carpenter nods that I detected, I’m sure there are dozens of others) to video game visuals commenting on the films characters and events (power upgrades, NPC stats, extra lives, high-score points accumulation) but its real strengths lie with Edgar Wrights dazzling editing techniques, once the realism fades away and he gets to stretch his cinematic muscles the film becomes a dazzling procession of montage and split-screen manoeuvres, translated from its comic-book pedigree, into a bombardment of visual information that a reviewer, if he was being lazy, could argue was ideal for the surface-inclined, twittering, alleged attention-deficit market demographic that the film is so obviously aimed at. You’ll either love it or hate it.
There are two, maybe three genuine laugh out loud moments (I’ll avoid the obvious abbreviation as I’m thirty ‘cough-cough’ years old) throughout the film but it does feel all so very slight and so very forgettable. Perhaps that was the intention and that is the films tone lifted from the graphic novel – I’ve nothing against that of course – but judging by some of the reactions on the affectionate side I was expecting, perhaps unfairly, a more convincingly grounded emotional core to the film, that the romance would even at least partially be taken seriously . The ‘seven-exes’ structure also feels a little faulty as, well, you know he’s got to go through seven battles which couches the film into a by the numbers run-through plot wise and you know that they’ll save the best clash and the best gags for the finale. Cera continues his shtick of scarcely submerged social hysteria with a twist, in Scott Pilgrim he’s actually quite the irritating idiot which is another blot on the films charm offensive and none of the other characters are particularly memorable or amusing, but the film just about musters through on the strength of its visual charms and an adroit, geeky dexterity, no doubt further gags and references more deeply embedded than others will be revealed on potential repeat viewings. I assume its lacklustre US box office performance against an absurd budget of $60 million will curtail Mr. Wrights Hollywood career, maybe he will return to Blightly, reunite with the old gang and complete that Cornetto trilogy after all….