Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Review)

Fortean Times online Sept 2010 (the basis of my now-infamous encounter with Michael Cera, which led to me unintentionally insulting the fellow in a discussion over the merits of linent suits and satchels. Happy times)

Perhaps the most telling compliment one can give Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is that it’s the greatest videogame movie of all time. An odd assertion, one might (justifiably) argue, seeing as, at its heart, Edgar Wright’s latest project – which sees the titular twentysomething battle the elusive Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes, who have banded together as a sort of evil union of scorned lovers, in order to win her affections – is a rather sweet love story. Nonetheless, it’s perhaps the first motion picture to truly depict and encapsulate the pure, simplistic joy of playing a good videogame, and as such is of considerable merit.

Though Wright may be downplaying the importance of gaming culture in the film so as to attract the lay audience, the influence is evident throughout; from the opening bit-tune rendition of the Universal theme to Ramona’s Donkey Kong-esque hammer combat. Even the core fundamentals of the film’s pacing – wherein Pilgrim journeys to win the heart of a girl by felling increasingly resilient opponents and their seemingly-unlimited army of goons – is a perfect distillation of core videogame elements. But the film transcends the “geek ghetto” and remains a fabulously refreshing piece of mainstream entertainment. Indeed, what its gaming heritage does is produce an incredibly streamlined narrative, allowing the film to maintain its constant sugar-high without ever stopping for breath. This is a film with seemingly unlimited energy and enthusiasm, and feels all the better for it.

Likewise, in contrast to so many other soulless and derivative summer blockbusters, Scott Pilgrim boasts genuine imagination, a great deal of which is communicated visually, with proceedings steeped in a quantity of colour not seen since 2008’s Speed Racer. But where the Wachowskis’ effort was a garish exercise in borderline-incomprehensible migraine inducement, Scott Pilgrim is cool-headed enough to ensure that – for all its whimsy and flights of fancy (including, but not limited to, neon dragons, flaming katanas and veganism-induced psychokinesis) – the audience remains connected with proceedings on an emotional level. Similarly, fight scenes are not only enjoyable in a purely action-oriented respect, but also act as worthy extensions of the film’s centrifugal conflicts, laden with stunningly stylised effects which serve to refine – rather than, as is too often the case, complicate – matters. To balance imagination and interest is a hard task, and Wright has managed it brilliantly. 

However, one shouldn’t overlook the sterling effort made by the cast, with Michael Cera’s smug-yet-sensitive Pilgrim as its centrepiece. Imbuing his popular on-screen persona with subtler shading – Pilgrim is, at times, flaky, manipulative and self-hating – it’s a testament to both Wright’s script and Cera’s performance that what could have been, in lesser hands, an intensely unlikeable character remains constantly engaging. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, too, deserves credit for similarly taking an often distant, enigmatic character and making the audience wholeheartedly root for her and Scott’s union. Admittedly, the supporting players are slightly more two-dimensional, but they make for a suitably entertaining roster of freaks, geeks and sociopaths and frequently steal the show – Kieran Culkin’s sardonic housemate, Chris Evans’s gravel-voiced greaser and Jason Schwartzman’s pretentious Final Boss standing out in particular. It’s just a shame that, due to the film’s brisk pacing, the evil exes aren’t granted the extensive screen-time they deserve.

In sum, Scott Pilgrim is a colourful, kinetic slice of grin-inducing entertainment which is without question the coolest movie of the year so far. 

4/5

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