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TBTS Reviews: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

November 14, 2010

About three years ago, I was tipped off to a series of graphic novels written and illustrated by Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley, the first of which was entitled Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It was one of the greatest recommendations I’ve received in a long, long time. Drawn in a nearly faux-anime style, the tale of Scott Pilgrim — a bass player for  struggling Toronto punk band Sex Bob-omb — and his complicated lovelife instantly struck me as a smorgasbord of pop culture references, twists on genre, and genuinely heartfelt storytelling. I got caught up on the series and, for the next three years, I waited doggedly as each new installment of O’Malley’s series released.

So when Edgar Wright, the spirited, stylistic director of cult classics Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the BBC comedy Spaced, announced he’d be taking on the comic for a live-action treatment, I was over the moon. It seemed a perfect marriage of director and project, and — if done right — the Scott Pilgrim books would make a phenomenal film outing. Or at the very least a lot of fun.

Then the film released this past August. And it was, basically, a massive box office flop. Eh, maybe it wasn’t as great as I thought it was. So I skipped it in the theater, instead picking it up on Blu-Ray this week after it dropped on Tuesday.

Pardon me if I gush. I know it’s not becoming in a critic. But I can’t help it. I loved this movie.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is one of the most inventive, original, creatively designed films I’ve seen in quite some time. And it’s really a shame that more people haven’t seen it yet, because it’s an animal the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a multiplex for years. The story is simple: Scott (Michael Cera, mostly ditching his aw-shucks persona to turn in one of his best outings yet) falls in love with mysterious Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers and ends up having to take on and defeat each of her “Seven Evil Exes” in order to win her heart.

Wright shoots Pilgrim in graphic novel style, and indeed it looks like a comic. From the painstakingly spot-on casting of each character in the books to the on-screen title cards merged into the live action, the movie works. It’s manic, fast-paced and incredibly visionary of Wright — I can’t think of many other directors who wouldn’t have ended up mailing in an endeavor like this, but Wright seems like he cares if he gets it right. And he does, in spades.

The fun’s in the formula as well, with a confused Scott forced to take on a series of villains (think of them like “big bosses” in a video game or increasingly powerful opponents in a kung fu movie, both conventions which clearly spawned the action here), each villain with his own unique powers. Among them are Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) as a skateboarding action hero with countless stuntmen at his disposal and Brandon Routh (Superman) as a Vegan-fueled blowhard, both sequences which parody their subjects even as they deliver legitimate action. Of course, at the end of the day there’s an all-powerful mastermind to be fought, and for Scott it’s the manipulative Gideon (Jason Schwarzman, chewing scenery), an ex who may or may not still hold sway over Ramona’s heart.

It’s regretful that Scott Pilgrim fell through the cracks in theaters, but it must have been an incredibly difficult film to market. Its skewering of the twenty-something music scene is full of jokes which may be lost on high schoolers, yet an older crowd unfamiliar with the early days of videogames might miss the countless gags winking at old-school Nintendo. As it stands, then, the movie’s unique niche (the way I see it, at least) would be the 23-35 year-old demographic, and that must have posed a problem for the studio’s marketing department, which clearly undersold and misrepresented the film from the get-go.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is a great trip, a giddy blast, and a visual beauty. And this comes from a critic a.) expecting the film to completely short-change O’Malley’s work, b.) suspicious that the film would be a total mess, and c.) jaded on the whole by movies with trailers which give nearly all the greatest moments away. I wanted to like this movie, sure, but it should also be noted that I didn’t think I would. It’s been a long time since I felt something for which I had personally high expectations actually came through (screw you, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!), but I’m happy to report that Wright turns in a piece of filmmaking that exceeds those expectations on very nearly all levels. I can only hope it finds its home and its audience on DVD, because it deserves that audience. Scott Pilgrim not only shows that the process of adapting a comic to a film (a feat churned out  joylessly and over-often these days) can be as creatively fresh as the source material, but it also proves that Edgar Wright has a lot of interesting stuff ahead of him. There’s great, great fun to be had here. Don’t believe the lack of hype.

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