Monday, August 23, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World / *** (PG-13)

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Scott Pilgrim: Michael Cera
Ramona Flowers: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Knives Chau: Ellen Wong
Stephen Stills: Mark Webber
Kim Pine: Alison Pill
Young Neil: Johnny Simmons
Wallace Wells: Kieran Culkin
Julie Powers: Aubrey Plaza
Stacey Pilgrim: Anna Kendrick
Envy Adams: Brie Larson
Roxy Richter: Mae Whitman
Matthew Patel: Satya Bhabha
Lucas Lee: Chris Evans
Todd Ingram: Brandon Routh
Gideon Gordon Graves: Jason Schwartzman

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright. Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Running time: 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references).

Someone asked me if the title of this movie is accurate, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Well, in Scott Pilgrim’s world there are really only three elements of reality: video games, music, and romantic obsession. In this story Scott Pilgrim plays bass in a band. He becomes infatuated with a girl named Ramona Flowers, and he must fight her seven evil exes, video game style, to the death Music and mortal combat over a girl has Pilgrim fighting for everything he knows.

Do you remember that old live action “Batman” television show? Whenever there was a fight scene, the sound effects would be represented in big bold comic book style words across the screen. Well, Director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) must’ve been a fan, because his movie, adapted from a comic book, is filled with visualized sound effect words. But he seems to take the technique quite a bit further than the old “Batman” show did. He not only visualizes the sound effects in words; he seems to visualize them with their corresponding emotional values. The “WHAM!” in a fight sequence is just as bold as you’d expect it. But a “thunk” when the hero is hitting his head against a post for being a twit starts small and gets bigger as he continues to thunk his head.

Then there are the fight sequences and the music. The animated power behind the fight sequences seems a forgone conclusion as concussion rings can be seen when fist meets head. What really impressed me were the concert sequences. Never have I seen music itself so accurately portrayed on screen. The music is a physical entity. As the bands play, the music sends out visible rhythms and sound waves through the audience. As a big music fan, this is like seeing what you’ve always felt when attending a live concert. Most of the fight sequences happen around the concerts and eventually the fights and the music become one, making for an impressive music showdown between Scott’s band and a band that includes two of Ramona’s exes. The music, quite literally, comes alive.

The cast of this film is immense. The meekly unassuming Michael Cera, of “Superbad and Juno” fame, plays Scott. Cera’s shtick as the soft-spoken nerd with a heart and mysterious attractiveness might be getting old for some, but it makes him a perfect Pilgrim. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Live Free or Die Hard”) is less accessible as the aloof Flowers, but that works for a contrast between the characters. It’s Scott’s emotions and life histrionics that are on display here, no one else’s.

But there are so many else’s to be dealt with by Scott. There’s his gay roommate (Kieran Culkin, “Igby Goes Down”) to keep his reality in check and his high school aged girlfriend, Knives (Ellen Wong), whom he can’t bring himself to break up with once he hooks up with Flowers. There’s Julie Powers, (Aubrey Plaza, “Funny People”) a superheroine-monikered employee of both the local record store and coffee shop, who seems set on destroying all Scott’s delusions, and he has so many. Scott’s sister (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”) also does little to boost Scott’s ego. But, his own ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson, “United States of Tara”), with her great success as a rock star, is his biggest psychological hurdle.

There’s also Scott’s band, the Sex Bom-Ombs. They are Stephen Stills (Mark Webber, “The Hottest State”) on guitars and vocals, Kim Pine (Alison Pill, “In Treatment”) on drums and as another brooding ex of Scott’s, and Young Neil (Johnny Simmons, “Jennifer’s Body”), the band’s groupie and sometimes-bass player. In fact, he does so well filling in for Scott; I’m not sure why the band even bothers with Scott and his romantic theatrics. They should’ve kicked him to the curb long ago.

Have I forgotten anybody? Oh yeah, the seven evil exes. Perhaps I should just stick with the most notable of them. Chris Evans (“The Losers”) plays a parody of his own action star status, who attacks Scott with his army of stunt doubles. Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) is the vegan-powered bass player of Envy’s band. The biggest laugh of the film comes when the vegan police appear to remove Routh’s powers for various vegan violations. Finally, there’s Jason Schwartzman (“The Darjeeling Limited”) as Ramona’s most recent ex, a record executive who also happens to hold the fate of Sex Bom-Ombs in his pen.

With such a large cast it’s almost assumed that the characters will be underdeveloped and soulless, but I think the comic book source material serves the film well here, in that all the characters are portrayed in such broad strokes that little development is necessary. They can simply go to work placing their hurdles of either physical violence or psychological scolding toward Scott. It’s really like a video game version of a typical romantic comedy. This one is highly populated with characters that exist simply as obstacles before Scott’s goal of being with Ramona. When he defeats them, they turn into coins, just like in a video game. I like that Scott’s first foe didn’t even produce enough coins for bus fare.

The movie’s biggest flaw—ironically, considering its subject matter—is a lack of heart. I fear this is a video game symptom that followed the movie’s gaming mentality onto the screen. Even so, the movie is funny, visually innovative, and quite surprisingly entertaining. So if you’re a fan of the video game format, the comic book format, great music, or even simply seeing sound effects visualized as words on screen, this movie’s for you. Hmmm, I’m not too sure that really makes for a broad audience spectrum.


Jimh. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimh. said...

Thanks! I was wondering about this movie!