Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Every now and then, a movie comes along that is virtually impossible to classify, as it shifts the boundaries of what one has come to expect from a cinematic experience. A successful "WTF?" (Yes, this is an actual film genre) movie can probably be regarded as one of a director's greatest accomplishments, as these daring and risky movie concepts are never easy to translate to screen. And even when the film works, there is no guarantee that audience members will appreciate the director's bold cinematic experiment.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's Comic book series) does not only 'work', but it has already managed to generate an impressive cult following, as it successfully encapsulates and portrays a world that many of the 'cool kids' might never have been introduced to: The universe of comics. This gives the film a very niche audience, seeing how an appreciation, or at least a positive acknowledgement of comic book literature is vital to the interpretation of the movie, as director Edgar Wright assumes that the viewer understands the mechanics and conventions typically used in comics.

The movie is littered with references to comic books and the culture that surrounds it, but Wright takes this a step further by shaping his movie as an actual comic book itself: Typical comic book sound effects jumping out of the screen; simple & sometimes incoherent bursts of dialogue and scenes that feel disjointed as if you were scanning through a comic book are but a few examples of the comic book structure used. The film's other huge influence, classic arcade gaming, is also injected into the very fabric of the film, with a soundtrack that could have worked just as well as the score to a video game like 'Megaman' and fight scenes that take direct inspiration from classic fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Tekken and King of Fighters.

"no character feels 'out of place' in this weirdly wonderful, jumbled-up geekfest."

This makes for an very interesting film, but luckily there's much more to Scott Pilgrim vs The World than its original concept. Fans of director Edgar Wright's previous work like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will be glad to hear the movie is injected with the same sense of dry, sharp humour that made these movies runaway cult hits. There are more than a few laugh out loud moments, mixed in with generous helpings of sheer randomness and even a bit of typical teen comedy, resulting in a film that is astonishingly varied in terms of its comedic appeal. While the off-beat humour definitely won't strike a chord with all audience members, there's enough variation here to ensure even the most traditional movie goer will utter at least a few giggles before the final showdown.

But sharp lines are worth nothing without sharp actors to deliver them and Scott Pilgrim vs the World's impressive list of Indie stars do not disappoint. At the lead is the modern posterboy for untraditional comedy and boyish looks – the very funny Michael Cera, best known for his role in the TV series 'Arrested development' and his breakthrough role in Juno. Not only does it seem Cera was born for the role of Scott Pilgrim, but he also gets the opportunity to play a much more forward character than his fans are used to, showing that he has the capacity to play more confident characters with a surprising level of conviction.

Special mention must also be made of Kieran Culkin's (Igby goes down, The cider house rules) extremely powerful supportive role as Scott's GBF (Gay Best Friend). Culkin, like Cera, appears perfect for the role, resulting in a hard-hitting comic duo that delivers some of the film's best laughs as well as most touching moments. Phenomenal performances by the movie's female cast members accentuate the movie's central focus around relationships and how complex even the most simple ones can be. The most impressive thing about the cast is that no character feels 'out of place' in this weirdly wonderful, jumbled-up geekfest. Even though there are more than 20 characters that feature prominently, not one feels like a 'stage filler', as all contribute to the film's strong sense of uniqueness.

"...the weirdest fight scenes witnessed on screen, all of which benefit from the use of a colourful retro palette of special effects..."

But the acting/dialogue is only one part of this crazy & awesome mess. The gaps between dialogue are filled with brilliant, over-the-top action sequences that have a distinct 'cheesy' feel to them. Somehow, this turns out to work quite awesomely, as the movie's comic book influence is more than enough justification for some of the weirdest fight scenes witnessed on screen, all of which benefit from the use of a colourful retro palette of special effects that will never work so well outside of this context.

But...

With all the praise there is to shower on Scott Pilgrim vs The World, also comes the bitter realization that the movie is far from being something one can classify as 'accessible'. Not only is the context extremely niche orientated, but the weird comic book structure of the film makes it very challenging to follow. The fast moving pace and frequent cases of unexplained randomness is sure to confuse (and even irritate) many audience members. While this is all intentional, one cannot deny that certain traditional elements (that make most movies agreeable) are somewhat lacking. I also feel that the level of randomness could have been taken down a notch or two, as it does subtract from the overall impact of quite a few scenes (especially later in the movie).

Nonetheless, one cannot deny the film's courageous approach and even those who hate the film can't deny the very distinct imprint it leaves on your thoughts. While it's definitely no 'Social Network', I have a feeling that Scott Pilgrim will still be fondly remembered long after humanity stops poking each other...

*Sadly, as with most highly experimental films, the movie was not well received by American or International audiences, as the $60 million production budget was never reached, grossing a mere $31 million in North America and $14 million abroad. 


When Scott earns the 'Power of respect', he is rewarded with a flaming sword – Awesomeness.


Rating: 4 Meerkat Tails 

(Add half-a-star if you are a super geek, or subtract one if you haven't picked up a comic book in your life before)


Highlight: 1. The lesbian fight scene – nuff said. 2. The duel with the DJ Twins.