Scott Pilgrim vs The World Review

by on Aug.15, 2010, under Articles, Films, Reviews

So my last “full” review was Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was not a good movie. Since then I’ve seen two very good films, Toy Story 3 and Inception. Neither movie, however, prompted me to write a review for them. I made commentary on certain aspects of the film, but not the films themselves.

And then we have Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Regular readers (heh) may have noticed my trend of not reviewing anything, lately. I’ve attributed it to perhaps wanting to focus on different style of writing. Or just not feeling like taking the time to write a structured review. But looking at it now, I think it is because I was uninspired. Toy Story was the end of a trilogy that toyed with my emotions and told a heart warming and breaking story. Inception was a thought provoking narrative using stunning special effects to make us question what it is the reality we experience, day to day. But neither inspired me to write a review of them.

No it took a movie about a twenty two year old Canadian boy, fighting the seven evil exs of a twenty three year old American girl, to inspire me to write another movie review. Funny huh?

Actually I do the movie a disservice by distilling it down to its basic plot. It is like saying that Toy Story 2 is just a movie about toys attempting to deal with their owner finally discarding them. Or saying that Inception is really just about a group of people who invade a person’s mind with advanced technology in order help one man finally go home to his children. When you take a very good movie, a movie that is more than just it’s core plot, you belittle it, even if you don’t mean to. People did this with James Cameron’s Avatar and it drove me nuts. You can’t belittle Avatar: The Last Airbender because it wasn’t a good film and it ultimately failed to tell its basic premise. You can’t belittle films like the A-Team, who are good films that meet their basic plot, because they aren’t trying for anything more than their basic, usually cliché premise. They aren’t trying for more.

And that is what Scott Pilgrim vs The World did. It tired for more and it succeeded. Awesomely.

So now I’ll begin my full review of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (SP). SP is a romantic comedy, which just opened in theaters this past weekend, based off a series of comics called Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. I have not read the comic although I will be starting the first volume very soon. I have read one piece of work by O’Malley called Lost at Sea, which I would recommend to any woman and probably to a few men. But this is a review about a movie that is based off of what O’Malley wrote. It stars Michael Cera (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno) as Scott Pilgrim, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Life Free or Die Hard, Death Proof, Sky High) as Ramona Flowers, Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, andJason Schwartzman (Shopgirl, Marie Antoinette, Funny People) as Gideon Graves, as well as a host of other secondary characters played by actors all of whom portrayed their characters excellently.

So the story of Scott Pilgrim vs The World focuses on, believe it or not, Scott Pilgrim, who falls heads over heels for the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers. Unfortunately Ramona Flowers has baggage in the form of seven evil exs who have formed the League of Evil Exs. Bent on controlling Ramona’s love life, they repeatedly find and challenge Scott Pilgrim to fights. Scott Pilgrim has to defeat each and every one in order to finally be with Ramona. Except things are really not that simple. After all this wouldn’t be one of the best films if it were, right?

So we start off with a pretty unique premise just to begin with. Then we add in the references. Now anyone with a passing interest in SP has watched the trailers and knows that Scott Pilgrim’s world isn’t exactly like ours. Scott lives in an alternate world where sound effects write themselves into the air. He lives in a world where more than a few people are masters of various martial arts styles. He lives in a world that has chapter titles, glowing swords, people who automatically censor themselves and others around them, people who can teleport, have psychic powers, and can battle with nothing but the sound of music. He lives in a world where defeating “minions” and “bosses” give you points and coins. That’s right. Scott Pilgrim lives in a world of video games.

If having a unique premise, and a unique setting, isn’t enough for you, then you still have the actual story to win you over. Scott Pilgrim vs The World isn’t a standard romantic comedy. Scott Pilgrim isn’t your typical nice guy who can’t get a date. Ramona Flowers isn’t the it girl with a string of bad relationships who just needs the right nice guy to save her. This movie delves deeper and actually provides a story about the forming of a real relationship. Both Scott and Ramona bring their baggage and their flaws to the table as they spend the movie fighting to be together.

But then again this is to be expected. Scott Pilgrim vs The World is written by Michael Bacall and written and directed byEdgar Wright. Edgar Wright, as the average movie going public likely won’t know, was the director and co-writer of two outstanding films named Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both films where homages to their respective genres, that being zombie films and buddy cop films, while still being excellent films that stand on their own own merits. Unlike those two films, however, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is not a parody. It also is not an homage to Romantic Comedies. Instead, SP is its own unique film that encases within it an homage to the video games of our youth.

And when I say “our youth”, I do not mean your children. I mean your childhood. While this movie will appeal to teenagers, its actual target audience in the twenty something year olds who grew up with Nintendo and the Genesis in their homes. The people who remember arcades that weren’t fill with Dance Dance Revolution. Yes, we’re hearkening back to the days when America produced more than just first and third person shooter video games. That’s right. The eighties and nineties. “Old School”. I also say this film is an homage, not a parody. While Scott’s fights end with the Exs exploding into showers of coins with glowing numbers in electronic font rising from the ground to tell us how many points Scott has earned, the film’s pacing and story are only barely controlled by the clichés of video gaming.

Also to say that video games are the only thing being referenced or given homage in this film is to likely spout falsehood. This film is actually chalk full of music, movie, and pop culture references. While the “world physics” might behave like video games, the jokes that are spread throughout the film, as well as little visual jokes and scenery, provide a plethora of “did you get that?” questions for you to answer. In fact I am primarily saying this on guess work because my background in both film and music is actually pretty pathetic but some of the references were very overt when used in comedy that even I saw them.

Speaking of comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is probably one of the most hilarious films of the year. I admit it did not beat out A-Team for levels of absurdity and good old fashioned “Holy crap I can’t believe he did that” laughter, but SP could hold its own in a championship UFC fight with the A-Team, I’m pretty sure. Even for someone with not enough background in any of the references given in the movie will find plenty of the laugh about. I still laughed hard at the spinning wheel joke the second time around, even though I knew it was coming. Suffice it to say that the trailer certainly did not give away the best jokes of the film. And while it took me two viewings to come away with quotes to laugh about, I feel the comedy is served at an equal level to the rest of the other elements of the film.

And honestly it was the little things that I feel make this movie so great. Like I was trying to explain to a friend of mine back in July as to why I wasn’t as impressed with Iron Man 2 as I was with Iron Man 1. It’s the little things that matter. Little things are small references that you really can’t pick up on your first time through the film because you’re too busy being taken along for the ride of the film. In fact if the film is really good, you won’t even notice the little things on repeat showings because the story still takes you along, until you can finally start looking at the film rather than watching it. Scott Pilgrim, being an homage to video games and including so many references, is like the cornucopia of little things. The things that the characters wear. The signs on the street. It helps with the level of immersion, to really feel the world. I think the only movie recently to come close (or even beat) SP’s level of “little things” is Avatar. And lets be fair, James Cameron cheated and used computers. Just kidding. Mostly because SP used computers too, for it’s video game effects.

To speak briefly about SP’s special effects. They were exceptionally well integrated into the film. Nothing every really looked “fake”, although none of the effects were also particularly trying to look real. While SP is not a special effects laden film like Avatar or Iron Man, it certainly had a large amount of them that helped us really feel like SP’s world sometimes worked like a video game.

Let me talk real quick about SP’s video game “rules”. The film takes a very benign feel to the fantastic elements that present themselves constantly. Ex boyfriends burst through ceilings and fly into the room. Scott Pilgrim seemingly knows martial arts, despite simply being dorky base player in a small unknown band, that allow him to fly up into the air and deliver a 64 hit combo before smacking his opponent to the ground isn’t questioned by any character in the film. At least not overtly. This is actually very similar to a literary genre known as magical realism. In stories that use magical realism, fantastic and “magical” on goings between characters are often accepted as simply fact by the characters of the world. In Scott Pilgrim’s world, every character has some kind of fantastic element about them that generally proves to be useful or comedic in some way but really isn’t questioned. If it is questioned, that question is usually very quickly brushed aside, only offered give the audience a little nod as if to say ‘yeah, that was kind of weird huh’? Do the characters in Scott Pilgrim actually see the sound effects write themselves into the air? Is that just how things are?

One of the last notes I wanted to make was the acting of the film. Since Avatar: The Last Airbender has actually given me a metric by which I can now judge bad acting, I can firmly say that every actor in the film was good if not great. Up until this point I had only a vague opinion of Michael Cera’s acting skills, as he seemed to have been type casted as the geeky nice guy in romance/comedy films. That being said the only other film I have seen him in is Juno, which was hardly your standard romantic comedy, so perhaps that opinion was rather undeserved. Mary Winstead and Michael Cera carry the film on their shoulders excellently with an elaborate cast backing them up, adding the “little things” that I discussed earlier. But I will discuss the characters more in the spoiler post.

The actual last note I wanted to make was regarding the fighting sequences and the music. Each fight was extremely interesting for various different reasons and the martial arts choreography I feel could put certain modern action films to shame. While this is not strictly an “action film” nor are all the fights “fighting game” fights, if you love a good brawl or sword fight, you won’t be disappointed. The film is also filled with excellent musical numbers, although SP is not a musical, fans of rock music, techno, and just plane music, will find plenty of reason to go buy the sound track of the film, if it is ever released.

So I’ve basically described Scott Pilgrim vs The World and most of the elements which I feel make it one of the best films of the year and a reason why you should watch it. But really, should you watch it? And while the fan inside of me is creaming “Yes please. Such films need to become economic successes so that Hollywood can see we need more than one Scott Pilgrim per summary session.” But in reality Scott Pilgrim isn’t going to be for everyone. So here is my run down of the check lists of the people who may or may not want to see Scott Pilgrim.

If you like any of the following things, you’ll want to see Scott Pilgrim as quickly as possible: Scott Pilgrim Comics, Comics, Anime, Video Games, Rock Music, and indie films. If your a fan of comedy of all levels from witty satire and homage to jokes about peeing and sexuality, you’ll want to see this film. Hardcore romantic comedy film nerds will most likely want to see this film. My parents would likely get bored and not want to see this film. If you have no interest in romance, video games, or over the top action martial arts action scenes, this is likely not your film. That being said I’d say Scott Pilgrim is likely a very good date night film. If you’re looking for hard core action or social commentary you might be in for a bit of a surprise. Ultimately I’m pretty sure the demographic for this film is sixteen to thirty year olds. Little kids and adults born in the seventies might find some of the humor interesting but ultimately aren’t going to get enough of the references for the film to make a lot of sense.

So this review got a little long, so I’ll be making yet another post, in which my inner fanboy will go wild with spoilers and discussion. Please comment there if you wish to discuss how much you like or hated the film or at least keep the commentary on here spoiler free.

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