Friday, February 18, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - 2011 - YUBARI Japan Premiere

Director - Edgar Wright

Rating: 4/5

In a recent interview Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, regular contributors to Edgar Wright, discussed the differing approaches between theirs and Wright's recent projects. Pegg and Frost with Paul went the route of compromise, prepared to make adjustments and play down the more niche-appeal qualities (i.e creationism debate), Wright with Scott Pilgrim went full steam ahead on the film he had envisioned, studio money bursting at the seams. One has since become a massive box-office flop, any guesses? If only there was a way to measure the number of torrents downloaded, perhaps it would paint a different picture, but alas, to many, the commercial line appears to be the bottom line in success. The film is saturated with post-modern referencing, swapping cinema structure for that of computer games, and splices it all with the comic-book origins it is adapted from. Not for everyone perhaps, but this is nothing if not astoundingly unique.

Scott Pilgrim - twenty-something video games geek, bass guitarist for battle of the bands contender Sex Bob-omb, and serial girlf-friend dumper(perceivably a mirror onto the target demographic) - lives in Toronto and is dating a high-school girl, Knives. However, after having his head turned in a chance meeting with Ramona, his true destiny, he begins a surreal adventure to win her heart. The only problem being that she has a past, a past that wants to beat the crap out of him. They come in the form of The Seven Deadly Ex'es, scorned lovers from Ramona's omantic back catalogue. Can Scott make his way through them all, without becoming the eighth member, and still be standing at the end? Thankfully, he seems to be blessed with the fighting powers of his video-gaming heroes, unfortunately so do the seven.

The ex'es that Scott must battle are where the film plugs into the world of computer-games. This is less three acts than seven levels. Each of the duels has a different vibe, ranging from Bollywood, 2D fighting games, The Matrix , to a CGI sound-wave monster vs. dragon. They use the video-game "beat-em up" genre mechanic as a starting point, and anyone with even a passing knowledge will see little references flying at them, left, right, and centre. Wright, however, said that the film takes its structure more directly from musicals, the songs and dances are simply substituted with fights.

When the pixelated Universal globe spins into frame at the start and its classic orchestral opening is done with sketchy eight-bit synth sounds, the film's modus operandus is established. From here to the end, almost every frame is decorated with some sort of retro flourish. Be it the music from old Zelda games introducing Scott Pilgrim as it once did a pint-size Gameboy character, ideas being signified by the kerching of Super-Mario grabbing a coin, or fights ending with a KO and points total flashing up on screen, there are a wealth of nudges and winks here. Apparently, Wright procured the use of the classic Nintendo sounds by writing a letter arguing that they essentially constituted his generation's nursery rhymes. If all of this sounds overwhelming, it never feels excessive, and really helps to posit the picture in this universe of straddled influences.

Despite everything going on, the film gets its feet from the pitch-perfect Michael Cera. Having watched him go from George-Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, to the split-personality of Youth in Revolt, all the while constantly refining his screen-persona, it is a treat to see him turn this into a comic-book hero, and in a strange way feels like the natural conclusion for this uber-geek.

Tropical Thunder claimed that going "semi-retard" was a sure way for an actor to target Oscar glory, well it appears that there is new rule to add to that tradition; if your career is flat-lining, play a snappy, wise-cracking gay man. Val Kilmer did it in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Keiran Culkin does it superbly here. He is brilliant, stealing every scene he is in, and every girl's boyfriend he meets. Gideon, the leader of The League of Ex'es, is played by Jason Schwartzman which surely makes him and Cera the most unlikely super-hero/super-villain pairing in cinema history. Schwartzman channels the angst he has into making Gideon a dislikable, but very watchable nemesis. The dialogue is punchy throughout without falling into over-hipness. There are some great tongue in cheek one-liners as well, "I cashed my last rain cheque."

The criticism leveled at this film is that if this is aimed at you then you're going to love it, but, If you don't have any basis in the cultural landscape being used here then it's going to zoom over your head. There is nothing exclusionary going on here, like Tarantino's Kill Bill, it is not post-modern for post-modern's sake, beneath all the layers this is just a really fun movie. Admittedly, it is a little on the shallow side, but it's not supposed to be anything more. The saddest thing about the commercial malaise here, is that when given the keys to the studio's cheque book, if there's not a sizable return on the investment you won't get them back for awhile. Before Wright can attempt anything on this frenziedly ambitious scale again we might find that he has to prove himself once more.

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