Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Directed by: Edgar Wright
There is a current trend for reviewers to place a much hyped new movie into one of two categories: masterpiece or rubbish. Proportionality seems to have disappeared. You must love a film or hate it. Middle ground is for wimps.
So forgive this particular reviewer in taking precisely that stance, for while Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is imaginative and breathless; it is also frustrating and derivative. In other words it is good, not great.
What frequently saves this film from drowning its audience in a wave of cool-speak and random segues (Seinfeld reference? In 2010?), is hero Scott’s (Michael Cera) battles with his intended girlfriend, the über aloof Ramona Flowers’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), ‘League of Evil Exes’.
Each fight or ‘boss battle’, as the script unashamedly apes the structure of a Megadrive era video game, is brilliantly realised by director Edgar Wright and frequently hilarious. Chris Evans’ numbskull actor Lucas Lee (one of his film within a film posters is for ‘Action Doctor’) possessing a voice like Duffman is the funniest, with Roxy “I’m bi-furious!” Richter (Mae Whitman) the most visually exciting.
These battles are like violent musical sequences, slipping in and out of reality, with a ninja belt/whip and giant mallet zipping around the screen one minute, then everybody back to normal and not batting an eyelid the next. It is all so cool that, regardless of your age; you may feel old watching it.
This ‘cool factor’ of one of the film’s most obvious flaws. Depending on your sensibilities, and possibly your birthdate, you will either find the main protagonists the coolest people ever or a clique of self important snobs who consider frowning to be the height of cultured integrity. Indeed the girl Scott screws over to pursue Ramona, the delightful and warm Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), is too optimistic and smiley to be part of the cool kids. Scott is far more taken with sulky misery Ramona, who dyes who her hair every week and a half then coordinates it with her Tank Girl outfits. What a free spirit.
The modish attire in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is brought vividly to life from the original comics. Costume designer Laura Jean Shannon has remained true to writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s own concept and ensured that every person in the film, no matter how brief their part, has a distinct costume look. Take perfect Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, easily the most identifiable character in the story, wearing a polo shirt with his initials stitched on the breast pocket. Outwardly cocky, Wallace is actually far more decent and unassuming than he pretends to be.
Scott himself wears lots of ringer tees, mainly ‘Smashing Pumpkins’ in various guises, along with a Diesel Sweeties pixel skull. But it is the yellow and red capped ‘Plumtree’ and pre-faded Levi jeans that establish the Pilgrim silhouette. It is superhero garb for the hipster generation, i.e. the ironic nerd, knowingly geeky but who deep down believes he is cooler than everyone else.
Even if you struggle to get on board with the desperately trendy characters, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is still, without hesitation, impossibly well put together. The way Wright blends amusing music cues with OTT graphics, special FX and sudden dramatic punches in the script is a lesson in fluidity.
Sure, there is nothing here that Quentin Tarantino has not already achieved ten years ago, but with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World you get all the fun with none of the extraneous dialogue. Wright is a master gauge of audience expectation; the second you want to punch Scott in the face for being such a smart ass, one of the Evil Exes shows up and does it for you.
Not the Second Coming by any means, but certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences of the summer. A good film. That’s it.
© 2010 – 2012, Chris Laverty.