REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [2010]

Score: 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 112 minutes | Release Date: August 13th, 2010 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Edgar Wright
Writer(s): Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright / Bryan Lee O’Malley (graphic novels)

“You punched the highlights out of her hair”

Some might say a tagline such as “An epic of epic epicness” is a tad too much. I might have even said that two hours ago, but alas, I saw the finished product. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is appropriately summed up in those five words—both epic in the Playstation lexicon synonym of 8-bit NES era ‘totally rad’ and in the Homer’s Illiad sense of a heroic journey of great achievements by the tale’s protagonist. But 22-year old Scott Pilgrim isn’t on a quest off to battle the Trojan War; no, his fight is a little closer to home. The girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, has swooped into his life and he will not let her out of his sight. Unfortunately for Scott, his own brand of Minotaurs and Sirens (yeah, I know those beasts are in the Odyssey) block the path to her heart. You see, in order to date Ms. Flowers, her suitor must defeat all seven evil exes from her past.

Based on the six-part series of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, director Edgar Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall have distilled the war into a high-octane, almost two hours of pure, unadulterated Fun. Yes, with a capital ‘F’. Ever since Wright’s first success, the television show “Spaced”, he has shown a penchant for brilliantly creative appropriation and homage, calling to mind the essence of what made the earlier incarnations great while adding his own unique stamp—think Series 2, Episode 5’s air gun battle. Scott Pilgrim is exactly what one would hope a video game adaptation could be. While Hollywood has looked to bring game properties into a realistic world, Wright and company have taken the real world and placed it into a computer graphic constructed universe in overdrive. Not only do characters fight as though inside a Street Fighter arcade system, but they also acknowledge the fact everything happening is completely absurd. Having reaction shots from actors express the same face we in the audience are projecting is a stroke of genius.

This is our world infused by the mind of Scott and a generation of youth raised on Nintendo and Napster. Ramona Flowers is literally the woman of his dreams, she is seen rollerblading through his subconscious before entering his life; their meeting was not a coincidence. Played by Michael Cera, a role he was born to perform—so good here that I forgot he’s been doing it for the past seven years with varying degrees of success—Scott is a bundle of insecurity while Ramona is the aloof loner whose sole existence is a tractor beam for people of both sexes needing to be her friend, lover, or enemy, just as long as she acknowledges their presence. Mary Elizabeth Winstead possesses the kind of beauty able to command such a reaction, her Flowers being both stunning and hipster chic at the same time with changing hair colors every week and a half. He is her start at a new life of normalcy, avoiding the ‘bad boys’ she’s attracted for too long, burning them in her wake before they could hurt her, a baggage manifesting itself as a legion of evil exes, steadily becoming more powerful as each stage is completed. Scott is Mario/Megaman/et al. fighting through henchmen to reach his Bowser/Dr. Wily, Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

There are friends to aid his mission of love, including always busy and always judgmental sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), his gay roommate and ultimate voice of reason/sage Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin in a role which steals every scene, complete with monogrammed polo shirts), bandmates Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and Kim Pine (Alison Pill, who is a pill harboring ill-will towards ex-boyfriend Scott), and roadie/wannabe Young Neil (Johnny Simmons). Each plays his/her role in pushing and pulling the star of the show in the directions he goes, finding himself not only coping with the devastating dumping by ex-girlfriend turned famous rockstar Envy Adams (Brie Larson), but also uncovering the uncanny ability to beat adversaries much stronger than he into piles of gold coins. Going against well-trained combo-action fighter Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), stunt-double bolstered A-list actor Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), experimental phase butch incarnate Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), vegan psychic Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), and twin sonic destroyers, the Katayanagis (Keita and Shota Saito), proves Scott’s mettle, taking him to the breaking point of deciding whether Ramona is truly worth the trouble.

This cast is absolutely insane with even more familiar faces in small roles sprinkled throughout (Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. equal the Best Cameo Ever). Whether it was the source material or the chance to work with Wright—this being his first solo film without BFFs Simon Pegg and Nick Frost—the talent swarmed in and knocked it out of the park. Each performer mixes deadpan seriousness with hilarious comic set-pieces to perfection, elastic in facial expressions and action, playing off of the superimposed text labels, levels, and powers of every minute detail. I can only imagine the number of Easter egg inclusions from the comic at play, from The Shins poster on a wall to the Smashing Pumpkins ‘Zero’ tee, (as well as ‘SP’ heart doubling for the leads initials) to the high-contrast silhouettes used, surely mirroring the stark black and white of the novels. Diehard fans of O’Malley’s will most likely find crucial information excised or changed—a reason I’m glad I didn’t read them first—but hopefully will be able to put canon aside and appreciate the film for the stunning piece of art it is.

And I’m not joking; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an artistically original vision unparalleled in the industry. I’ve been following Wright’s Twitter feed for months now as he’s been putting the finishing touches on this masterpiece, so I know the time and care he’s taken to make it perfect. The action choreography is top-notch; the blurs, flashes, “Batman”-esque onomatopoeia, and arcade sound effects are superimposed/juxtaposed in a way to bring you a sense of familiarity within the wholly unique visual construct at hand; the transitions are smooth, lightning quick, and on the verge of disorientation as they jump through time, ushering us forward with a minimal amount of useless exposition; and the music cues are superb, from the score changes depending on battle or conversation to jokes such as the “Seinfeld” jingle preceding a lengthy stretch of film with laugh track background. The film is a videogame come to life where the audience and actors on screen are symbiotically connected in full consciousness of the gimmick, rendering it an authentic piece of life rather than the trite, manufactured joke less capable hands could have easily fallen prey to.

It has it all: action, comedy, romance, pop culture, adolescent angst, relationship woes, and more comedy. When you can have three audience members on the wrong side of sixty, conversing before the film how it must be “about music” since they received their passes at a guitar store, stay for the long haul and laugh throughout, you know the movie has the kind of legs for mass appeal. Catered to the ADHD generation of information over-saturation, yet also crafted to hit upon nostalgic memories for late twenty-somethings, and still retain a sense of all-encompassing humor to supercede any targeted demographic, Scott Pilgrim is on a level all its own. It takes reality and throws physics out the window, adding pause buttons, new lives, and secret doors to transport you out of the cold, making anything and everything possible. But in the end it is also about finding one’s true self, growing up beyond the selfish insecurities of dating, cheating, and dumping by discovering what really matters in life. Thankfully those lessons can be learned in a surrealistic and fantastical yarn of incalculable entertainment.

[1] Scott Pilgrim (MICHAEL CERA) and Ramona Flowers (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) in the amazing story of one romantic slacker’s quest to power up with love: the action-comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes 2010 Universal Studios
[2] Evil ex Todd Ingram (BRANDON ROUTH) readies his attack in the amazing story of one romantic slacker’s quest to power up with love: the action-comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2010 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] (L to R) Scott Pilgrim (MICHAEL CERA) battles Ramona’s evil ex Matthew Patel (SATYA BHABHA) in the amazing story of one romantic slacker’s quest to power up with love: the action-comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2010 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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