Review: Scott Pilgrim vs the World is Totally 8 Bits of Awesome
by Jeremy Kirk
August 13, 2010
We always knew Edgar Wright was working at an advanced level. With the first two films in his "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy" (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), he proved that while we were all living in an 8-bit world, he was delivering entertainment at a 64-bit execution. Even "Spaced", a show that sadly not everyone has partaken in, showed how progressive his directing skills were. So it comes as no surprise that his latest film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, takes the game of film making and reinvents it once again. After having the term "game changer" thrust about like it's growing on trees, it is refreshing to finally see something this cool, this different, this awesome in the actual sense of the word.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is awesome. From action to romance to comedy, it delivers hand over fist and with pin-point accuracy for maximum damage. It's a film about a culture, about a group of young men and women who are very much alive in our day and age, but, more importantly, it is a film for that culture. It makes its own rules, bends them, forms them, and creates an awe-inspiring story about the challenges of young love that slides perfectly into place
Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old who hasn't quite found his way yet. He's in that place between being a boy and being a man, playing in a rock band waiting to be signed, and, while the whole world is working on him to grow to the latter, his nature tells him it's okay to just be the former. He has recently begun dating a high schooler to prove to the world he's not ready to take that next step. However, as with any young man or woman, he's always on the look-out for something more, something immediate.
In walks Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), purple hair and an aura of excitement Scott can't quite wrap his head around. He's infatuated with her, and, when she finally agrees to begin dating him, he feels his life has reached its peak of happiness. Then the evil exes begin attacking him. You see, before he can truly be happy with Ramona, he must defeat her seven exes in fast-paced, video game, Mortal Kombat-style, hand-to-hand combat. Let the epic awesomeness begin.
From the outset, Wright lets you in on the style of his film. The opening, Universal logo is made up in 8-bit graphics, the Universal theme blaring in Nintendo-like bleeps. All that is missing is the start button at the bottom of the screen and, maybe, an options button just below that. The references found throughout Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are plentiful, and each one serves to create this world wherein the action takes place. It's a world that looks like our own but acts with the mentality that, if you can press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start, you'll be awarded with 30 lives.
The fights, though comical through and through (Brandon Routh's Evil Ex #3 gains his magical powers from the veganism lifestyle he has taken on), are also shot and edited with masterful skill. Wright has proven to us before he knows how to shoot action, but he has never been faced with the challenge of shooting hand-to-hand fighting, especially not like this. It is stylish, frenetic, and it comes at you with enough force it is almost impossible not to cheer when Scott defeats one of them as they burst into magical coins (quarters, really. This is somewhat based in the real world).
Words popping up on screen to emphasize an action, the BLATs and POWs that leap out at the audience, provide the comic book rules of the world, as well. Sometimes, these references don't work as they should. When you're reading a comic book, you can look over, analyze, pick apart any frame of the page. However, when you're watching a film, each shot only comes at you for a second or two. What is seen as an aside, a gag to add emphasis on the page, becomes the focal point of some shots, and it can never work here quite like it does in the graphic novel. Most of the time, though, it works flawlessly.
One other aspect, minute, though it may be, doesn't quite work. It's during the battle with Evil Ex #3, the vegan played by Brandon Routh. Something happens and two characters show up for a small scene. The characters are played by notable actors, actors who are big enough as to get a reaction from the audience. It's funny in the moment, seeing the actors playing the characters they are playing, but, in hindsight, it doesn't fit. It's an odd choice to throw in cameos like this, a choice generally relegated to broader comedy than that found in Scott Pilgrim. It's such a fleeting moment, one that is easily put out of thought, but I felt it is worth mentioning.
The marriage of video game and comic book stylings is also aided by the thunderous sounds of one of the hippest and coolest soundtracks to come along in awhile. An important plot point in the film is Scott's band, Sex Bob-Omb (1-up to you if you get that reference), playing a battle of the bands. It wouldn't work in the slightest if you aren't convinced by the bands or their music, and Wright knows this. Every song in the film, whether diegetic (coming from the world we are seeing) or not, works perfectly into the story.
Wright molds his cast, as well, allowing each actor to make their respective character their own. Cera generally gets a lot of flack for playing the same type of role again and again. With Pilgrim, he's allowed to branch out, to play the geeky, dopey, love-struck teen we've seen come from him before, but, much like the character himself, we see Cera growing in each passing scene. He understands the Scott Pilgrim character, better than most actors seem to understand their characters in modern film. We are watching him on this adventure, both physically as well as within himself, and we are watching the actor and the character grow together. It's a thing of beauty, really.
The rest of the cast is just as skilled. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a few odd choices for Ramona, giving us a blank slate sometimes when she should be giving us a wave of color. The rest, however, is picture perfect. Each ex is played perfectly, with Chris Evans as Lucas Lee and Jason Schwartzman as Gideon Graves coming out the best of any of them. Kieran Culkin as Scott's homosexual roommate and Ellen Wong as the high schooler he's dating on the side steal every respective scene they are in, though. All in all, the cast is great, and everyone here shines with the same glimmer you would expect to come from the physical world Wright has created.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is 8 bits of awesome, a digitized love story in a very real world. But even more than a story of a boy and girl falling in love or even a story about a boy who must fight his way through seven levels and seven end bosses to truly be happy, it is a film about growing up, of learning from your mistakes and correcting them as best as you can. In the real world, we rarely get these second chances (or 30 chances if you've entered that Konami code). The rules of our world don't allow it.
Thankfully for Scott Pilgrim, his world does, and to watch him grow from is game changing enough. He may be fighting only seven individuals, but the title tells us everything we need to know. It's the world that's working against him. It's the world that's helping him along the way. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about life. Just make sure you grab that 1-up before facing it.
Jeremy's Rating: 9.5 out of 10