Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

I'm a little late with this review, but I have good reason. Having seen the film twice, once on its release and once a few weeks ago, and allowed for a cooling off period to let my fanboy fever die down, I now feel like I'm in a position to speak as objectively as I can about Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

I add the caveat, 'as objectively as I can...' for a good reason also. Having read (and adored) the cult-darling comic books by Brian Lee O'Malley prior to my viewing of the film, my opinions of the characters and events portrayed are considerably more well-informed than those who haven't, so it's very possible I'll be more forgiving than certain critics of the adaptations shortcomings. Considering also how faithfully the film stuck to the principal ideas laid out by its source material, it is difficult not to draw direct parallels between the two. Disclaimers out of the way, on with the review.

First, the obligatory synopsis. Scott Pilgrim is a 20-something slacker from Toronto who lives and hangs out with other 20-something slackers, also from Toronto, and eventually falls in love with a 20-something hipster from New York and must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to court her. Comical, certainly, and not the type of premise that will appeal to everyone, but lets remember this is the stuff of comic books. It doesn't ask to be taken seriously. In fact, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, both the comics and the movie, makes every effort to make sure you don't take it seriously.

This is a world where couriers travel through peoples minds to cut time on long-distance jobs, where bass players punch holes in the moon, average-joes have other-worldly super-powers and villains burst into coins when defeated. If any of that made you cringe or raise an eyebrow, Scott Pilgrim is not the franchise for you. However, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief that extra little bit and see past the relentless video game arcana, you're in for, what is at its heart, an interesting, character driven relationship story. Albeit, one with lesbian-ninjas and psychic vegans.

Scott Pilgrim is, potentially, the worst protagonist in comic book (and comic book movie) history. He's lazy, narcissistic, whiny, poor, the list goes on and on. When we're introduced to him, his only ambition is to spend time with his high-school girlfriend, Knives, and mooch off his gay roommate, Wallace, never aspiring to anything bigger than a cup of cocoa and a gig for his, awful, band. He does however have a unique, inexplicable likability, much of which comes from Ceras natural on screen charm, which segways us nicely into his journey of self-discovery when he meets his excruciatingly cool love interest, Ramona Flowers.

While reading the books, around volume 4 I believe, I remarked to a friend that I really didn't like Ramona as a character, and that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to or not. The film, in my opinion, suffers from the same problem. It's honestly difficult to like Ramona. She's snide as opposed to sassy and continuously comes across as a conceited, hipster bitch. This is even more apparent in the film than the books and it really makes it difficult to understand why Scott is so infatuated with her, especially over Ellen Wongs adorably insane depiction of Knives Chau, who on more than one occasion I found myself rooting for. Having said all that, Scott Pilgrim has always been as much a parody of nineties-youth as a celebration of it, and Scotts bewilderment at Ramonas consistent hipsterisms (much of which was lost in favour of more infatuation in the film) can serve as a much needed contrast to Ramonas unwarranted self-importance.

But I haven't written the story, and Ramona isn't COMPLETELY unlikeable, so perhaps thats just my own issue. Their relationship evolves at a slightly more unrealistic pace than in the books, but that's to be expected of a film adaptation with seven antagonists to get through, and truth be told the way in which both Scott and Ramona develop each-other as characters is still apparent and still heartwarming. A quality deviation in Knives' story also brings her character full circle, creating a more well-rounded Knives than the books delivered.

This movie is as much about its villains as its heroes, and some top notch casting, writing, acting and directing bring these bad guys to life in spectacular fashion. Brandon Routh and Chris Evans steal the show as Todd Ingram and Lucas Lee, but even Mae Whitmans Roxy Richter delivers a few laughs, while the battle between Sex Bob-omb and the Katanyagi Twins is an aural-visual onslaught that will test as many as it will delight. The supporting cast are also worth a mention. Young Neil is a subtle scene stealer, Kieran Culkins Wallace Wells is a not-so-subtle scene stealer and while Kim Pine can come across one-dimensional to those unaware of her comic book back story, Alison Pil delivers a convincing, and at times exhilarating performance as the habitually pissed off drummer.

But any story ultimately relies on the strength of its leading man/lady, and given how useless Scott appears at first glance, how could anyone possibly relate to his story? Well it's simple really. We've all been where he is, willing to do anything to win over the guy/girl of our dreams, including dealing with the issues of his or her past, issues which in this case are embodied by seven evil exes.

Consider this, all of Ramonas evil exes are infinitely superior to Scott in almost every way. They're stronger and they're better looking but they're all completely hung up on a girl they dated years ago. Scott, on the other hand, in having to (literally) fight for something he wants for the first time in his life, showcases genuine capacity and drive to change and be a less sucky person. That's why we empathize with him, that's why we forgive his initial shortcomings and that's why we cheer for him.

Edgar Wright has created an incredibly faithful adaptation in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, in a style not a million miles from his previous work, particularly Spaced. But like its source material, it will completely alienate as many as it will endear. I definitely believe reading the books prior to seeing the film will make it easier to take Scotts world for what it is, as well as giving you as a viewer, a deeper insight into characters who can seem shallow and uninteresting to those meeting them for the first time. But Wrights adaptation is (just) broad enough to have more than limited crossover appeal while keeping the fanboys/girls happy.

TL;DR: A great companion film to the Scott Pilgrim books, which will please fans and newcomers alike, provided you don't take it seriously.

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