Words: Ced Yuen
'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong
Let’s get one thing clear: 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' will not be a universally-loved classic. It will not be well-received by the majority of the cinema-going public. The reason for this is that it is a niche movie. It is a celebration of all things geek, and is too quirky for an audience expecting a conventional summer flick. The film's mediocre showing at the box office is perhaps an indication of its advertising, which has alienated the mainstream. With that out the way, let’s get talking about marmite.
Following the success of 'Shaun Of The Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz', Edgar Wright found his foot in the Hollywood door. When he made it big, it was easy to assume that he would follow the same formula that’s worked so far: more Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, more blood-and-Cornetto Brit-com genre-mockery. His next project came as a shock: an adaptation of an unknown Canadian comic book, inspired by Manga and videogames, about twenty-something year-old geeks struggling with love and life. It was certainly an odd choice, but a good one.
'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' is a love letter to mid-20/early-30-year-olds, the generation who grew up with videogame arcades, Nintendo and MTV. This is a movie built on retro appeal. Throughout the film, the audience is treated/subjected to a myriad of lovingly-crafted pop-culture references. This is a world where absurdity is something to be proud of, where anything is possible. It is a story about a 20-something year old loser (Michael Cera) who falls in love with a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but has to defeat her 7 evil exes in order to be with her. It sounds like the premise of a videogame, and it is no coincidence that the film is structured like one. To call it a ‘geek movie’ would be an unfair oversimplification.
The film perfectly merges ‘reality’ with the worlds of videogames and comic books. The visual style is unique: while Zack Snyder’s '300' and 'Watchmen’ were visually spot-on *translations* of their source comics, 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' is literally a moving comic book, complete with split frames and spelled-out onomatopoeias. This is geek comedy vs. 'Street Fighter' vs. Adam West-era 'Batman', a combination that works surprisingly well. Action sequences haven’t felt so fresh since 'Kill Bill', Quentin Tarantino’s own pop-culture cocktail.
It would be very easy to dismiss this film as gimmicky, but the film doesn’t rely on the visual style to hold it up. This is a funny movie, with an endless stream of sharp dialogue delivered by a great cast. Kieran Culkin almost steals the show as Scott’s gay roommate. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a layered performance as Scott’s love interest, nicely balancing a tough, mysterious side with a sad vulnerability. Michael Cera plays Michael Cera again, but he has expanded his repertoire slightly, convincingly adding depression, anger and optimism to his default awkward insecurity. The editing is particularly impressive, with the occasional sleight of hand demonstrating just how far Wright has come since 'Spaced'.
There are some weaknesses. The film struggles to maintain its momentum, becoming somewhat repetitive towards the end, but ends before it outstays its welcome. The music, which is a central theme, may not be to everyone's tastes: check out a couple of tracks by Scott Pilgrim's band Sex Bob-omb (written by Beck) below. The film’s biggest ‘flaw’ is that it is so very geek-centric. Pop-culture references and quirks are fun and a great source of humour, but only for those who get it. Non-geeks will most likely find this film one-dimensional and repetitive. Still, blaming the film for catering to geeks is like blaming Picasso for catering to Cubists.
The bottom line is that this is a well-written and stylishly-presented film. Literally POW!-packed and full of win, 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' stands to be the most unique film of the decade.
'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' was released in the UK on August 25th and is in cinemas now. Go see it. Before it's too late.