Theatrical Releases: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’

As the director of Channel 4’s cult comedy Spaced, Edgar Wright put a surreal, hyperactive slant on the story of a bunch of twenty-something slackers; with Shaun of the Dead (2004), he showed that he could wrench a heartfelt emotional payoff from even the most unlikely of scenarios; and with Hot Fuzz (2007), he proved himself more than capable of handling intense action.

Now, in his first Hollywood film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Wright combines all of these elements to great effect, making Scott Pilgrim simultaneously the sweetest romance, the funniest comedy, and the most trilling adventure film of the year. Along the way there are myriad references to points of nostalgia drawn primarily from the world of gaming, but also from music, television and movies.

Adapted by Wright and co-scribe Michael Bacall from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, the duo do a great job of condensing the events of six volumes into a movie that clocks in at under two hours, as Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) fights for the love of the beautiful and mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Unlike most romantic comedies, I don’t mean “fight for the love” as a metaphor. This is a film about dealing with personal baggage, and Ramona’s baggage just happens to be the so-called “League of Evil Exes” determined to exert control over the future of her love life.

The ensuing battles – each of which begins with a glowing, pixelated “VS” symbol appearing between Scott and his opponent, and are punctuated with combo tallies and point scores – rank among the best cinematic fight sequences, and are certainly some of the most original. Even with so many bouts of hand-to-hand combat in the movie, the battles never become boring or repetitive, as each has a distinctive, unique style.

The fight with Ramona’s First Evil Ex-Boyfriend, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), features a Bollywood musical number, while my personal favourite may be the showdown with Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), whose Veganism inexplicably grants him psychic powers. Routh’s is a particularly funny performance in a film full of them. The comic crown, though, belongs to Keiran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Scott’s gay flatmate. It’s a testament to Wright & Bacall’s screenplay that the funniest character in the books remains so in the film, yet only occasionally uses lines taken directly from the source material.

In fact, much of the dialogue and action of the film differ from that of the books. However, this doesn’t prove to be a real issue as the changes all work towards translating the graphic novels to the screen, and the film arguably works best in its original moments. One of the most noticeable fidelities to O’Malley’s work are the graphics that litter the screen, ranging from name-tags to visualised sound effects. While some characters – most notably Envy and Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer, Kim Pine (Alison Pill) – are necessarily somewhat reduced in importance, this enables Wright to keep the spotlight on the relationship between Scott & Ramona. Cera has never been better than he is here, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly cast as the aloof Ramona. Without going into too much detail, Jason Schwartzman is also brilliant as Gideon, the leader of the League, though singling out any single actor seems unfair given the outstanding level of the entire cast.

Scott Pilgrim’s soundtrack alone should surely be enough to grant this film lasting cult-status. Each of the fictional bands that play alongside Scott’s band, ‘Sex Bob-Omb’, have had their songs composed specifically for the film by an established artist: Sex Bob-Omb’s songs were provided by Beck; The Clash at Demonhead, fronted by Scott’s own Ex Envy Adams (Brie Larson), are “played” by Metric; and local rivals Crash & the Boys’ material comes courtesy of Canadian art-collective Broken Social Scene. The score, by legendary music producer Nigel Godrich (who has worked with the likes of Radiohead, Beck, Pavement and Paul McCartney in recent years), is a perfect blend of 8-bit video game audio and alt-rock.

As a complete package, Scott Pilgrim is a defiantly youthful, but nevertheless mature film that is not quite like anything you will have seen before. Whether or not the rest of the industry will have the courage to follow Wright’s lead is questionable, especially since this, his finest feature, has a voice and style so distinctly its own that any attempt to mimic it would instantly be called out as an imitator. The first weekend box-office figures in the US were disappointing (just over $10 million, a portion of the reported $60 million budget), but the impressive DVD and Blu-ray performance of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass (2010) may well be emulated by Scott Pilgrim. It’s the kind of picture that those who ‘get it’ will love, see over and over again, and remember for years to come. I know I will.

David Sugarman