Up up, down down, left right, left right, B, A, start.
And just like that, an impish and bedraggled British television director steps into Hollywood, rolls up his sleeves, and changes cinema history with a flurry of thumbs. When
Star Wars cosplay goes horribly over budget. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
is a sweetened, condensed version of a fantastic graphic novel series and a benchmark for director Edgar Wright, who after two great installments of his “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy took his bag of film tricks and poured them all into a single movie.
The story begins on a cold Toronto day. Scott Pilgrim is dating a cute-as-a-button high school girl named Knives, practicing with his band called Sex-Bob-Omb, spending quality time in bed with his gay roommate, and generally oozing hipster semi-charm 24 hours a day. But his bizarre status quo takes a kick to the face when pink-haired Ramona Flowers roller-blades (literally) through his dreams. She's much hotter in her other movies, I promise.
He pursues, she demurs, then Scott scores a date and promptly learns that in order to keep dating the girl of his dreams he must defeat her seven evil exes.
In this off-kilter sugar-pop universe, fight scenes break out with spontaneous joy much like dance numbers in classic Hollywood musicals. In fact, many of the fight scenes incorporate music, not just as soundtrack but as plot points and, in three separate scenes, as a weapon itself.
The video game-inspired premise was not lost on the creators, who decided to start the film with a highly pixelated Universal Logo paired with a tinny, old-school Nintendo soundtrack version of the trumpeting fanfare. From there the gamer references come faster and faster until, by the finale, characters are even snagging “1ups” out of the air.
This kinetic pacing is doled out in small doses in the comics, with each of Ramona’s Exes creating a fight scene tent pole for a single volume. But Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall compressed the comics (written by Bryan Lee O’Malley with a slightly cynical edge) and squeezed out all the silliest parts into a single story. This might leave some fans wishing for a longer running time or, better yet, a trilogy. But there’s a bit of genius in this conversion. While the books are undeniably “deeper,” the film is a shot of pure joy, a smile-inducing laugh fest that is, quite frankly, refreshing.The director seduces Michael Cera.
In the hands of lesser talent the jokes and cinematography may have been phoned in. But with Wright at the help, Scott Pilgrim
is a stunning two-hour tutorial in everything that’s good about modern cinema. Like no other director working today, he takes lighting and sound, special effects and performances, and interweaves them so tightly that each is dependent on another to make the story work. Instead of taking a script, then layering on the elements one by one, Wright makes uses joke as plot points that only work if you dim the lights, throw in a CGI diagram of the characters brain, and then depend on Michael Cera’s affable comedic timing to tie it up with a bow.
At a script level it must have either looked so insane or so mundane that it’s shocking to think anyone that wears a suit to work would have given the project a thumbs up.
But we’re lucky that they did, because Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
is the flick to beat this summer, and if it powers up at the box-office the way it deserves, I’d hate to be the studio releasing the next contender.