Ten Word or Less Review: One word only. Awesome!
By all reasonable equations “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” should add up to an awful film going experience. It stars one-note, wimpy guy Michael Cera in another part centered on a lovelorn romantic infatuation. It’s based on a ‘hip’, slightly irritating graphic novel that’s too cute by some degrees. It’s infused with a love of all things related to that special type of movie poison, video games. A medium which has never produced anything close to a decent cinematic experience, video game adaptations seemed doomed to torture movie goes forever. Despite all these glaring, insurmountable handicaps, “Scott Pilgrim” by turn’s charms, excites and invigorates in ways very few movies ever attempt. It’s a bold and kinetic movie that jumps off the screen and proves livelier than anything made in an age.
Scott Pilgrim the character is by all social measures a loser. He’s got no job, no phone, no real money to speak of, he’s on the physically slight side, he survives by the grace of his gay roommate, Kieran Culkin. In short he’s the part Michael Cera always plays. But that’s not a drawback here. Scott’s one noticeable skill is playing a badass base guitar in a band called Sex Bob Omb. So though Scott has little in material possessions he often strikes a chord in the hearts of the opposite sex with his goofy charm and amazing riffs. He currently takes heat from colleagues and family for dating a high school girl named Knives, whom he’s kind of smitten with but knows he shouldn’t be dating. But before long, but too long for Knive’s little heart to handle, Scott’s infatuation changes directions towards Romana Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winsted), a purpled haired, wonder girl whom Scott instantly crushes all over. This romantic triangle takes a turn for Scott’s worse when he discovers that to date Ramona and win her heart, he must defeat her 7 evil ex-boyfriends, in glorious fight sequences which invoke Street Fighter II. This is the part where your Mom and Dad will probably check out on “Pilgrim” and turn back over to whatever BBC series is on KET. Hearts fly off the screen when people kiss, fists fly in multi-hit combos, vanquished boyfriends turn into coins, bands battle with music that threatens to rip the screen asunder with its epicness! This being “Scott Pilgrim” I had to use the word epic at least once. So that makes twice. We’re good to move on.
“Pilgrim” succeeds not only as an endearing love story for the twenty something crowd, it’s a very good one of the genre, it rocks the proverbial socks off with dazzling fight sequences that blend the tried and true joy of video game button mashing with exquisite, action scene editing. Just the day before I bemoaned the awful, indecipherable action choreography of the idiotic “Expendables.” “Pilgrim” shows that hyperkinetic energy and fast pace don’t have to inevitably lead to indecipherable action mush. This marriage of sharp editing with a pseudo fantasy backdrop makes us buy into the notion of Cera as an ass-kicking super guy who can defeat Superman and Captain America in the same movie. Well, Bradon Routh and Chris Evans in the roles of two of the evil exes.
All of this unlikely but successful romantic mayhem is deftly assembled by director Edgar Wright. The Brit helmer who’s carved his name in fanboy lore forever with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” continues to prove himself a master magician of tricky pop culture pieces. With “Pilgrim” he’s shown that while no one has yet to make a compelling or worth while movie out of a video game property, you can take a love of video games and infuse it with cinema to produce something unique and startlingly entertaining. The fact that the film works as a romantic character piece as well as an action epic, that’s three times, shows his prowess lies beyond innovative CGI pyrotechnics. Wright’s skill with directing actors, even those as one note as Cera, is perhaps his greatest strength. If he had failed in that regard, “Pilgrim” would’ve been an entertaining sideshow for about 30 minutes and then limped off to a corner and died of repetition.
As is often the case with boundary stretching cinema, the frenetic results irk and perturb some. Thoughts of stylistic button pushers like “Moulin Rouge” and “Speed Racer” come to mind when dwelling on “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Those movies, like this one, get slighted at first many for being too much to handle. A movie only kids who grew up playing Playstation and X-Box can possibly invest in. I say that’s bunk. Any ass level director can make a movie, edit it to pieces and barf it up on the screen in a wretched, over boiled, smelly mess. Hi Stallone! Wright and company have put together a movie that whirls around like a phantasm of energy, found performers who deliver emotionally affecting performances that don’t smother under the style, and put it all together in a way that creates a grin from ear to ear for nearly every minute its on screen. It’s a ballsy experience that few directors would ever take on, and even fewer would ever succeed with. In short, it’s epic.