Thursday, 26 August 2010
'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' review: A beautifully realised and imaginative love letter to youth...
"Ramooooonaaaa" sings Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) to the object of his exaggerated and overzealous affection, Ramona Flowers. It is the only word, repeated over and over, in a heartfelt ballad he plays her on guitar. Edgar Wright's third film 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' operates in much the same way as this song over its brisk 112 minute running time. It is a heartfelt paean to youth and to those fleeting and ultimately trivial, but nevertheless extreme, outbursts of emotion. To that anguish that felt so real at the time. To that bottomless heartache and empty despair. And equally, to that joyous and unselfconscious sense that everything is awesome. But the film does not trivialise these feelings and instead Wright transports us back to that time and place in all of our lives - in a stylish and hyperactive flurry of bright colours and loud sounds.
'Scott Pilgrim' is a somewhat impressionistic vision of youth, viewed through the prism of the protagonists interests. These happen to be video games and rock music and so we see his world through this lens. It is a world with explodes with geekish detail and where even the smallest movements are rendered dynamic and exciting. The film is adapted from a six-volume comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Edgar Wright does well to capture this spirit. Think of the film as a sunnier, funnier cousin of Robert Rodriquez's 'Sin City', as Wright has seemingly also used the comic book itself as a direct reference point for storyboards, with some shots matching their corresponding panel exactly.
For those that don't know by now, 'Scott Pilgrim' is the story of a Canadian twenty-something in a garage band who falls for the new girl in town. However, this romance is complicated by the fact that this girl has "seven evil exes" who Pilgrim must defeat if he is to survive and (more importantly) win his girl's heart. These fights involve mystical powers (such as vegan telepathy) and video game-style power-ups (such as a large pixelated hammer) and see Pilgrim face-off against a terrific supporting cast which includes the one-time Superman, Brandan Routh, and the current Captain America, Chris Evans (no, not that one), as well as Jason Schwartzman.
On top of this, Pilgrim must break-up with his "fake high school girlfriend", Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Much like Wright's previous films 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' (not to mention the TV series 'Spaced'), 'Scott Pilgrim' is filled with in-jokes and references to other films. Wright has already demonstrated his love for parody of genre conventions in all of the above and continues to do so here. But there is a new source of reference material Wright is free to mine here: video games.
From the brilliance of the 8-bit rendition of the Universal Pictures logo that opens the film, to the Super Mario reference in Scott's band's name (Sex Bob-Omb), to the Legend of Zelda music which accompanies one poignant emotional scene, Wright does mine this rich seam fully. In some ways it is probably the best video game adaptation ever, in that the spirit of games is really recreated here. The fights themselves each take the form of a different video game genre too: the Katayanagi twins are fought in a Pokemon-style brawl; one fight is a Guitar Hero inspired "Bass Battle"; another takes the form of a skateboarding game; and the opening bout is more in line with something like Street Fighter or Tekken.
And Wright doesn't stick to well-known games either, as the final fight sequence seems to be directly inspired by the cult Wii title No More Heroes, with Pilgrim brandishing a lightsabre-style sword as he shatters his besuited foes into showers of sparkling coins. That game like 'Scott Pilgrim', perhaps coincidentally, also involves the checking of enemies off a numbered list. It's a geeks paradise and I'm sure a more avid gamer than myself would find some reference or other in every single frame. But it is the sort of film where it doesn't matter particularly if you don't get every joke. It is pretty rapid fire and if you miss a few you'll doubtless get the next one ten seconds later.
The standout aspect of the film is doubtlessly the visuals, which are detailed, almost beyond precedence, certainly for a live-action film. Ramona's roller-skates melt the snow instantly on contact (just as she melts poor Scott's heart). The promotional posters for the various fictional bands are authentic looking and do well to create a tangible world, albeit one larger than life and steeped in fantasy. Chris Evans' character is a Hollywood action hero and we see not only a great number of blink-and-you-miss-them mock film posters, but also a short segment from one of his films ("the first click you hear is me hanging up. The second one is me pulling the trigger"). During one fight, in an empty nightclub, a villain's psychic energy forces the discarded plastic beer tumblers out of his radius. It has the feel of a film which will reward repeat viewing for the eagle-eyed obsessive.
I'm sure 'Scott Pilgrim' is destined to become some people's favourite film. Their is certainly a very specific niche of people who will totally "get it", although cross-over appeal seems limited. The opening grosses in the US have been fairly disappointing and it remains to be seen whether UK audiences will flock to it in greater numbers. Personally, I only laughed a couple of times, and more in recognition of a joke than because it split my sides. But I was never bored and I feel like I can appreciate what this film is trying to do. It is more imaginative, more colourful and more beautifully realised than most films. The only thing I would go so far as to say I disliked was the ending, which felt tampered with and like the result of too much testing. The film gears up to end one way, only to then lose courage and retreat into a more familiar comfort zone. But this aside, 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (whilst not quite a perfect "K.O") is a quite unique and broadly stylised celebratory tribute to youth and love and video games... and being awesome.
'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' is rated '12A' by the BBFC and is on general release across the UK from Friday the 27th of August.