Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Lord help me, I just didn’t get it.
It seems that this film has been on the horizon forever and on paper it’s a winner. Edgar Wright, creator of the sublime Spaced, the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the very good Hot Fuzz, was to adapt Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series into a feature film. This is what’s known as a match made in heaven.
But Scott Pilgrim just isn’tquite as good as that promise and the fact that it comes so close makes it worse.
You’ve seen the trailers. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is your typical slacker twenty something. Coasting through life, he is in a go nowhere band and in a relationship with a highschooler when he meets and falls in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Much to his surprise she returns his affections but there is a catch, he must defeat her seven evil exes.
First things first, the film is every bit as beautiful as those trailers promise. On a visual level, Wright has made an incredible film. No comic book adaptation has done this much to translate the aesthetic of a “funny book” to the screen. POWs, BANGS and WHIPS litter the screen, music comes to life and weaponry is summoned from thin air. At the moment the comic book movie is on the verge of shifting; Snyder’s Watchmen, Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and Nolan’s Batman films are all pushing the genre and experimenting with what it can do. Edgar Wright has taking it a giant leap further and on that level Scott Pilgrim is a slam dunk.
As is the cast. I cannot understand the backlash against Michael Cera. I think Cera is on the cusp of showing what he is capable of. Anyone who has seen Youth in Revolt knows he is far more than Ethan from Superbad. He brings that neurotic paranoia to Scott but also a bizarre cock sure swagger. Part of my issue with the film is with Scott but it’s not Cera’s performance (more on that in a moment). The rest of the cast shine, Kieran Culkin gets the lion’s share of the one liners as Scott’s roommate and almost steals the film while Anna Kendrick is on hand as Scott’s sister, occasionally popping up to remind everyone how ridiculous the situation is.
The real stars of the show though, are the exes.
Scott Pilgrim’s pop culture of choice is computer games (if you don’t know what a Bob-Omb is you’ll miss 60% of the gags) and Scott’s battles play out like every Boss Battle you’ve ever played, complete with “vs” and “KO’s”. The battles are delirious. What’s most impressive is how unique they are. I was concerned watching the trailers that by Ex #4 I would be bored by the flailing fists and feet. Wright keeps things fresh giving each fight it’s own twist. I don’t want to spoil some of the surprises here but without hyperbole they really need to be seen to be believed, the confrontations Scott has with Ramona’s Exes are worth the ticket price alone.
The problem is that the emotional core to this film plays second fiddle to the madness on screen. Scott Pilgrim obviously lives in a heightened reality (no one bats an eyelid when the someone bursts into a shower of coins) but what he goes through for Ramona is extraordinary and there just isn’t enough substance to their relationship or his infatuation to justify his actions. The “why” to this film, the relationship between Scott and Ramona, needs to jump out and stand above the visual tricks but it feels hidden away beneath it. The best comparison I can give is (500) Days of Summer, a wonderful film that played out in a similar way to Scott Pilgrim. A young guy falls in love with a gorgeous (initially) unobtainable young woman and tries to woo her. That film also used quirky tricks like song and dance numbers and reality bending sequences but the difference with that film is that the majority of the runtime was spent with the two leads. Surprisingly, Scott and Ramona spend very little time together and as a result their connection isn’t as strong as it should be.
Ramona isn’t a bad character and with what she’s given Winstead does a fine job, but we never get to know enough about her or, for that matter, Scott to understand why he is obsessed with her (apart from the fact that she is gorgeous and, initially, unobtainable). His dismissive attitude to his own ex complicates things further. I was never rooting for Scott. I didn’t understand him, so I couldn’t empathise. Call me a softy but I need to understand a love story to accept and fully embrace it. Bemoaning a film like this because the romance isn’t strong enough sounds ridiculous but it’s the crux of the film. Without it, it’s all sight and sound and dare I say it, style over substance.
I wonder if I’m only this disappointed because I bought into hype. I enjoyed the film, but nowhere near as much as I thought I would. I’m looking forward to a second viewing, I want to be part of the party. I want to love the whole film and not just the crash, the bang and the wallop.