reviews\ Aug 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Film) review


For as long as humanity has existed, each passing generation has founded their identity on something unique and special. This reality, or shall we call it our unique identity, could be analyzed, exploited, personified, or magnified by perceiving how entertainment plays a role in the lives of its audience.

The Scott Pilgrim comics exemplify this. A self-aware, fourth-wall breaking franchise that discusses the life of a mostly typical 23 year-old from Toronto, what makes it so special is not that it accurately portrays 20-something living, but it portrays the lives of 20-somethings as they perceive it.

Admit it, who of the so-called "Millennial" generation hasn't fantasized about exacting their revenge in an epic, flashy Street Fighter match, or through insane guitar battles where the instruments are badass magical weapons in rocking duels, or over the top ninja battles? What makes the Scott Pilgrim franchise so special is that the whole thing is wish-fulfillment for a generation reared up on video games. While generations before had comic books and television shows to base their fantasies upon, Scott Pilgrim represents the establishment of video games upon the hearts and minds of a particular sect.

That brings us, of course, to the movie adaptation of the series birthed from Brian Lee O'Malley. How meta can we get, a movie from a comic influenced by the 8-bit generation? But here we are, Edgar Wright's manifestation of the post-X generation. Scott Pilgrim vs The World does a great job of recreating the universe of Toronto that O'Malley initially established. Coming into the film, one wonders how much of the extra little details appear, like the character bios that pop up, or the over-the-top video game battles, or the silly onomatopoeias that litter the pages of the comics. Surprisingly, a lot. Almost too much, as the in-jokes and surreal magical realism of the comics can be a bit forced in the film. There is a balance that Wright must walk, and he is mostly successful.

Part of the problem with the film adaptation is that it attempts to bite off more than it can chew. While the film is truer to the source than many other adaptations, squeezing six books into a two-hour block is quite a challenge. Never mind the fact that the Scott Pilgrim books are designed to end with a boss battle, and into six of them with that. Practically recreating the level-based design evoking the games that inspire them, it feels almost cramped in the film. Should the plot have been broken up into two films, the film would be freer to expand.

Thankfully, what it does fit in, it fits in with flair. All of the popular characters make a dashing appearance, from the scene-stealing Wallace (owned by the now superior Culkin sibling, Kieran) to the foul mouthed Julie Powers. There is quite a line-up of characters, and everyone is given at least one moment to shine. From all of the unique ex-boyfriends (vegan Todd is a delightful jerk), ex-girlfriends (Roxie and Lisa bring the angry vindictive bitchiness around), stressed bandmates and more. Almost every minor and major character from the books makes a turn, so it is somewhat a shame that characters like Kim Pine (Alison Pill) or the nonexistent Lisa didn't receive much exposé.

Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) gets a major boost in comparison. Becoming much more relevant in the latter half movie -- with much thanks to the sixth volume of the comic launching just a few weeks ago -- the end result of Pilgrim is unique, if not for the case of avoiding the remarkable bad endings of comic book film adaptations. The film's ending wraps up the comic series in such a satisfying way that no sequel is ever needed; although, Hollywood will undoubtedly get their hands into the money pot for a follow-up.

Much attention has been paid to Michael Cera's casting. His career has often walked a fine line as the artist-known-for-playing-George-Michael and due to typecasting, has served the same role more often than not. Cera's participation in Pilgrim shows that he knows he needs to break that trend, although Scott Pilgrim isn't exactly deep or dynamic in the long run. Expanding beyond the lazy everyman, Cera does a fine job representing the character, even though he never attempts to reinvent or make the character his own. He catches up on the nuances of the book, even if they are limited.

Unfortunately, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is one-note. Due to the character's selfish attitude, audiences may find her ultimately jarring and unlikable. While it isn't the fault of the film, rather the comics', the relationship between Flowers and Pilgrim is forced. The on-screen chemistry between Knives and Pilgrim is much easier to appreciate than that of the two leads. This major issue of not presenting characters the audience can connect with sets the film back a few steps from being a rousing success.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an enjoyable ride for fans of the books, video games, and surreal comedies aimed college students. Sure, the jarring hipster element of the film is a major turnoff for those too cool for the movie (oh, the irony!), but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a love letter for those born after 1980. Everyone else is going to walk away perplexed.


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