Monday, September 6, 2010

Pilgrimage: Scott Pilgrim Review

A group of us saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World last night. This is writer-director Edgar Wright's first American movie following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both of which I enjoyed greatly. It's based on a series of graphic novels by Toronto's Bryan Lee O'Malley and the story follows 23 year-old slacker Scott Pilgrim, bass player for struggling band Sex Bob-omb, as he pursues the (literal) woman of his dreams. The primary struggle are the larger-than-life, video-game inspired battles between him and Ramona's "7 Evil Exes", but like most pilgrims, Scott has a couple of significant internal struggles to sort out before the story ends.

If you ever worry about how far behind you've left your younger self, see this movie. If you don't enjoy it, there is a distinct possibility that self has moved on to greener pastures and whether or not they will be missed is a question only you can answer, but I kind of hope they are. It should thus come as a surprise to no one familar with this blog's title that I had a great time, and so did Audrey.

To be sure, this film is oriented from stem to stern for a much younger audience than myself, and this is obvious before the movie even opens when the Universal logo and familiar fanfare are rendered in glorious 8-bit graphics and sound. But it this didn't matter, at least not to me; I've never played Nintendo, but I've played video-games from before and after that influential system. I've never played the music from 'Final Fantasy' on a guitar, but I own a video game score on CD (don't judge me, man). I've never literally fought for the love of another, but I've earned a score of figurative scars nonetheless.

Wright has perfectly captured the imagination and passion of young adult romance for the OMG generation, and has also made one of the best comic-book adaptations ever. The on-screen enhancements like labels, visible comic-style sound effects 'riiing's and bass notes, meters, energy bars and pee meters serve as an ever-present reminder of the graphic source material without being distracting, or worse, evoking too much of Adam West's Batman.

And since one of Wright's next projects is an Ant-Man movie for Marvel Studios, let's talk about the action bits for a moment. He says the movie is essentially a musical, but whenever a musical number would normally occur, it is replaced by a fight scene. And such fight scenes! Filled with crazy and kinetic martial arts drawn more from Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat than the works of Jet Li, and including fireballs, psychokinetics and glowing swords. Numerous walls are knocked down, and in true comic book fashion, not a drop of blood is spilled. The first time Scott vanquishes an opponent who then disappears in a shower of coins (Canadian currency too!), his gleeful exclamation of "Sweet, coins!" echoed my feelings precisely. The follow up of "$2.10...that's not even enough for the subway home," got a laugh from the audience too. And if video-games and comic-books aren't enough, Wright taps into action and cop movie cliches and even Bollywood during the fights, so you probably won't get bored.

Michael Cera is perfectly cast as the mostly indomitable, and entirely too cute title character, and through some kind of special effect I cannot possibly begin to understand, looks really, really capable at throwing hands in this film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a wonderful job as the aloof and mysterious love object, Ramona Flowers, but best in show has to go to Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Scott's gay roommate, who steals a lot of scenes without ever doing that much.

Pilgrim even gets to match up against other big-screen super-heroes as well: two of Ramona's evil exes are Brandon (Superman) Routh as a rival bass player dating Scott's ex and Chris (Human Torch and Captain America) Evans as a 'pretty good skateboarder turned pretty-good action star'.

The music is another high point, and I picked up the soundtrack earlier today. Sex Bob-omb's sound is ably represented by Beck, but the rest is an eclectic mix described by Wright as a trans-Atlantic mix tape developed by himself and comic creator O'Malley during the creation of the screenplay. Since a lot of the movie takes place in Toronto's indie music scene, a lot of newer bands like Metric and Broken Social Scene are represented, but there are also tracks by T. Rex and Frank Black, and even Halifax girl band Plumtree, whose song 'Scott Pilgrim' inspired the comic that spawned the movie. They all manage to capture the spirit of youth while still underscoring the story, as when the (inevitably sleazy) record producer gets out of his limo to the strains of "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones.

I can't say this is a movie for everyone; what movie is? But if you like music and laughter and are young at heart, you owe this movie a viewing, even if comic books and video games aren't really your 'thing' any more. It's a shiny, tart candy with a soft sweet centre, and I will be picking up on DVD as soon as it becomes available. Despite its positive reviews, however, it is not bringing in big box office, so if you want to see it in a theatre (and you really do, the laughter and cheers in our theatre enhanced the experience tremendously), please do so quickly. We need to vote with our bucks to get more smart, sweet and outrageous movies like this greenlit in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it too Stephen. Great story plus a T.Rex tune!