Friday, September 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) – Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is loads of fun to watch. It is specifically tailored for fans of comics, video games and indy music. Writer-director Edgar Wright is completely committed to his vision and style for the film and it is unwavering. Every sound effect, every scene, every line – everything is foreign, as the world of Scott Pilgrim is seemingly our reality, but clearly it is not and yet the film straddles the line – and every detail is thus: real but not real. The emotions of the characters are relatable, but they can also do insane things like brutally fight without getting hurt – it is as if our reality was infused with that of a video game – we are real, but we have the capability to do unreal things. This is a tricky film universe to sustain for an audience. Every detail must both link to the core emotions of the viewer or what is the point, but also each detail must pertain to the gimmicky nature of the world. The film falters a bit in that it is so committed to the world that it can grow a bit tiring and reparative (especially the fights, which seem to all end up being all sort of the same), what was once funny, cool and unique becomes mundane and common over the course of the film, particularly here because the filmmakers are so committed that every shot and so on has its roots in the world. Thus, the film cannot survive alone on its innovative and sleek style, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has a good enough narrative at the core to sustain and engage the audience on a level deeper than just the coolness factor of the film.  The character of Scott Pilgrim is also a bit problematic as he is not completely likable, and yet the viewer really has no one else to latch onto as a protagonist. Normally, not having a good-guy protagonist is not a problem, but this film sets him up completely and adamantly as its hero, but he is not heroic. Rather, he is forced to fight, is not very nice nor is he concerned with those he calls friends, and yet he is called hero by the narrative. While, it does make for an interesting journey, as of course by the end he rights himself and truly does become the hero he needs to be, the film struggles a bit in its ability to fully engage the viewer on the emotional, viewer connecting to protagonist, level as Scott is just kind of a jerk, though he has no idea he is one. The supporting characters are all fun, each fulfilling a specific beat in the world and each needed for the full experience. Wright succeeds in crafting his narrative to make each line, character, scene build and support the momentum and journey – and the entertainment of the experience. The world has a very authentic feel and look. The scenes in which Scott’s band plays, with the aura coming off them are fantastic. Music plays such a role in the film – it is the soul of the world and the emotional through line for the audience. With Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright has made a film for fans, not for anyone else. Everything is a reference, packed with complete and utter love for the film world and all that influences it.

 On to the technical players – director Edgar Wright has always been a filmmaker that endeavors to fashion his films for genre fans (and for nerds – which I am), but not just genre fans – fans that know the genre, love it and are able to take it a step forward into a hybrid world of the genre mixing essential elements of the genre but also infusing silliness to exploit the genre for the implicit comedy that lines within it. Here, with Scott Pilgrim, Wright has gone farther. He has made a genre film to an extent, and the silliness is there, but it is not about exploiting it for comedy, it is about full emersion. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series makes the perfect platform for this next logic step as a filmmaker. Cinematographer Bill Pope is the perfect choice to shoot this film. His ability to shoot both sleek action and aesthetically pleasing non-action scenes, in addition to his lighting aptitude, completely compliment the style Wright employed for the film. The look of the film is essential to its ability to work – and it looks amazing. Aesthetically and stylistically, it is one of the best films of the year. That is also thanks to the fine work from production designer Marcus Rowland, who balances our reality with that of the video game quite well. As stated earlier, music is the soul of the film. The performances by the bands and the found music give life to the world, but Nigel Godrich’s score accompanied it impeccably adding drama beats and fully fleshing out the emotion of the film. The young cast is great – each fitting and bringing life to their characters. Michael Cera does a bit of the same of his tried and true shtick, but it is fine as it works. But it is the supporting players are what really elevates the overall cast – Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are the standouts.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not going to appeal to everyone, it is far too specific and stylized for that – but for those it does appeal to, it is magic. 8/10 

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