By Elena Cresci
Geekdom has expected big things from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Adapted from the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film is director Edgar Wright’s first outing on the big screen without his Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz co-conspirators, and oh my, what an outing it is. Wright is the master of making the ordinary extraordinary. In much the same way as the characters of Spaced’s lives were given dramatic treatment befitting the big screen, Scott Pilgrim’s precious little life is treated with all the gusto, pizzazz and point systems of beloved old-school videogames. Simon Pegg even tweeted that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is ‘the closest thing you will ever see to a third series of Spaced’.
The first of the six-book Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series appeared on bookshelves in 2004 and proved to be immensely popular; so much so, that the film version was planned not long after the first volume was released. Bryan Lee O’Malley himself has even had a hand in the making of the movie adaptation. For example, he supplied the actors with ten secret facts about their characters to aid in their respective portrayals.
‘Between jobs’, living and sharing a bed with his cool gay best friend, the titular character’s life is nothing special. He’s a slacker who spends his time rehearsing with his mediocre indie group seeking success and almost holding his seventeen year old girlfriend’s hand. ‘If your life had a face, I would punch it’, quips the drummer of his band. Enter Ramona Flowers, a flash of ferociously pink hair on rollerblades, and Scott is besotted to the point that he forgets to break up with his current enamoured girlfriend.
However, there’s one snag; in order to date Ramona, he must defeat her ‘Seven Evil Exes’, starting with an eyeliner-wearing hipster with mysterious Bollywood powers, Scott quickly moves from being pummelled by a skateboarder turned movie star, to being levitated by a Vegan with god-like powers. He struggles when he finds out about Ramona’s ‘experimental stage’ ex-girlfriend and then has to take on two at once when the Japanese twins Ramona once dated come to town. All this is but a preamble for the big daddy of the Exes, the ‘Boss Fight’ at the end of the game: Gideon the music producer, who is an ominous presence throughout the film.
The Evil Exes provide a useful linear construction for the film’s plot, strengthening the overarching videogame metaphor. In videogame terms, each ‘Evil Ex’ represents a new level, providing new challenges to Scott and Ramona’s blossoming relationship. It soon becomes increasingly clear that Scott must not only overcome remnants of Ramona’s past, but also his own.
While the overall plot is a strong one, the progression of Scott and Ramona’s relationship can at certain points feel somewhat rushed. It doesn’t seem as though much time passes between their first kiss, their first major argument and the eventual and not unexpected ‘l love you’ moment. However, it could be argued that this mimics the headiness of that first major crush, where everything seems to move at a million miles an hour. Not to mention that some suspension of disbelief is required in a film which depicts a universe where Tekken-worthy fight scenes are the absolute norm!
There are so many moments in this film that will have your inner geek squealing like a little fangirl. Music from The Legend of Zelda used in a dream sequence? That ever familiar ‘Character vs. Character’ setup from classic fighting games of the 90’s? Enemies bursting into a shower of coins upon defeat? That’s all there, and more. Wright succeeds in making graceful reference after reference to these cultural touchstones in geekdom without ever overdosing on the metaphor.
Fans of the graphic novel should rejoice in Wright’s faithfulness to the source material and new fans needn’t be intimidated by the unknown; Wright has succeeded in crafting an ‘epic of epicness’ that fans of the original comic and Wright’s previous work will delight in. The source material has been treated as a storyboard, with scenes from the graphic novel quite literally coming to life on screen, written asides, dialogue, POWS and all. Not to mention that the soundtrack, supplied mostly by the in-movie bands, really adds that extra dimension that you wouldn’t get from the graphic novels. Generally films with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s target audience are often seen as an opportunity to cram in as much of the hip contemporary music that all the kids are listening to as possible, so it’s refreshing that the soundtrack fits well with the tone of the film without being overwhelming.
Casting Michael Cera in the role of Scott Pilgrim initially brings the assumption that this role is like Cera’s many other roles; the geeky awkward kid who somehow manages to remain adorable and get the super cute girl. Here’s the thing though : that’s not Scott Pilgrim. If anything, he’s a bit of an arrogant idiot and to Cera’s credit, he carries the role with ease. Also, Cera isn’t exactly your buff martial arts star, which makes the fight scenes all the more interesting.
There are some stellar performances here from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers and Kieran Culkin, who stole many a scene playing Wallace Wells, Scott’s gay flatmate. Wright commented previous to the film’s release that he felt that they had ‘great people in every single tiny part’, and this shows. Even the actors with relatively few lines work seamlessly with the rest of the cast. Still, there were certain characters I would have liked to have learnt more about; for example, it would have been nice to have learnt more about Scott’s break up with ex-girlfriend Envy, especially as we hear so much about Ramona’s exes.
While the film for me is without a doubt one of the best of this year, I do feel that it very much fulfils a small niche market. As a consequence, it may not hit the big time at the Box Office. Not everyone is a gamer geek or has experience with the kind of smash-em-up games that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World makes frequent reference to. This shouldn’t detract from the quality of the film, but for some it may be just a little bit too geeky. It may even be the case that half the audience will feel like outsiders looking in on an entirely different world. The sad fact remains that, due to the film’s nature, some viewers are potentially going to watch it without ever really getting the subtle humour demonstrated throughout.
Despite this, it’s clear that Wright has crafted an intensely original film with snappy dialogue and amazing visuals. While critics may judge it based on its opening weekend figures, it’s clear that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will become a cult classic with a loyal following in years to come. It truly is an epic of epic epicness, for videogame fans at least.
9 OUT OF 10
All images © 2010 Universal Studios