Saturday, December 3, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

In the unbelievably slim case that you haven't noticed, most of the comic books that Hollywood has adapted into movies have been based on the superhero pantheons of DC and Marvel. But movies based on lesser-known comics from independent publishers haven't always been as successful as their DC/Marvel brethren. Dark Horse's Hellboy might have seen success at the box office, but most movies based on independent comics — the ones I've encountered, anyway — haven't done too hot.

Take Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, for example. Based on writer/illustrator Bryan Lee O'Malley's series of graphic novels published by Oni Press between 2004 and 2010, the movie was a box office bomb despite getting rave reviews from critics. Even I had initially dismissed it as "hipster crap" based on the commercials alone. But after being convinced to check it out on HBO by a friend of a friend, I was pleasantly surprised.

Meet Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a twenty-something slacker from Toronto who's trying to make it as the bassist for the band "Sex Bob-omb." Although he constantly faces criticism from his friends and bandmates for dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a teenager five years his junior, Scott is happy with her. That is, until he meets the girl of his dreams. And I don't mean that as a euphemism. She's literally appearing in his dreams.

The girl in question is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious young woman who Scott quickly falls for. They end up starting something of a relationship, which is naturally complicated by Scott's seeming inability to dump Knives. But if Scott truly wants to be with Ramona, he must fight and defeat Ramona's seven evil exes, nearly all of whom have superpowers.

Okay, I'll admit it: I completely misjudged Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I thought it was going to be lame, but it surprised me by being charming and downright funny. Scott Pilgrim is a unique flick; I haven't ever really seen anything like it. There's no real base of comparison that I know of. The movie exists in its own little world, one where it has no real equals. I've seen a lot of weird, wacky, silly movies over the years, but very few are quite like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The movie's a trip, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

At the helm is Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. But this is a much different beast than either of those other movies; it's more effects-driven, with a wackier sense of humor. Because of that, I wasn't quite sure how Scott Pilgrim would turn out under Wright's watch. Turns out the movie was placed in good hands. Wright's direction is fantastic, perfectly pulling us into what feels like a live-action video game. The way he paces the movie and his creative sight gags make the movie feel like a 21st-century version of Airplane! as far as its overall tone goes.

Wright crafts the material in such a way that I found it hard to not find at least something amusing about the movie. The fact that the movie is in no way constricted by a definitive style, choosing to let its imagination run free and wild rather than narrow itself down into something specific or restrictive, lets Wright go absolutely bonkers. There's so much energy, so much over-the-top zaniness that if your comedic sensibilities correspond with the movie's, you'll easily fall in love with it.

The visuals and sight gags are a huge part of Scott Pilgrim‘s silliness, but the script is as well. Written by Wright and Michael Bacall, the screenplay is full of so many great jokes and so much quotable dialogue that if it were any better, I don't believe I could bear it. Some of the humor is so absolutely random that there's no way it won't catch you off-guard. I mean, there's one short scene that parodies TV sitcoms, with a laugh track and the Seinfeld theme song added for effect. Why? Beats me. It doesn't make a single bit of sense at all. It's just there to be funny, but there's nothing wrong with that. And really, you can describe the whole movie like that. Not much of it makes sense, but it doesn't have to because it gets by with just being funny.

And this brings us to our cast, who are all big factors in making Scott Pilgrim work. Let's start with the actor in the title role, Michael Cera. Cera has pretty much made a career out of playing the same character over and over. Go watch Juno, Superbad, and Year One, and you'll see what I mean. That's actually one of the reasons I was hesitant to watch this movie to begin with, because I was absolutely sick to death of seeing Cera play awkward, dorky yet quick-witted twenty-somethings. I wanted to just avoid any movie he was in at all costs. But the guy's damn good at playing that part, so kudos to him for finding something that works and sticking with it. Of all the times he's played that type of character, though, the role of Scott Pilgrim gives him the chance to do his best at it. Cera gives Scott charm, making him enjoyable and fun.

But honestly, Cera is outshined by the rest of the cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Ramona with a sarcastic cynicism that provides a fun counterbalance to Cera, while Ellen Wong's bubbly, energetic performance is a real treat. Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, and Chris Evans are great as members of "the League of Evil Exes," but the entire movie is pretty much stolen by Kieran Culkin. Culkin grabs the movie and runs away with it, making every single second he appears in the movie all the better through his absolutely hilarious performance.

If there are any negatives to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it's that it seems to be aware that it's too cool for school. But by the time this becomes apparent, the movie's almost over so it ends up not being that big a deal. The honest truth is that it's a fun movie that never once stops being amusing. You'll find yourself chuckling at even the corniest jokes and enjoying the interactions the characters have with one another. I wish I had seen it during its theatrical run, because it probably would have completely blown my mind. And for being one of the most imaginative movies I've seen in a long while, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gets four stars. If you haven't seen it yet, please check it out. It's totally worth your time.

Final Rating: ****

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