Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is the Bob-omb

We finally got around to seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The World all the way through last Sunday, and it passed the ultimate test: it was as good the second time around.

The story is about the misadventures of Scott Pilgrim (an awkward, super-passive, out-of-work, wannabe rock star played by Michael Cera) who meets Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams (wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and is forced to fight her seven evil exes. All the is occurs as Scott and the members of his band, Sex Bob-omb, try to prepare for a huge battle of the bands in the "mystical land of Toronto" that could win them a contract with a major record label.

As a movie, SPVTW follows videogame plot structure - think of a character advancing through the levels of Mortal Kombat or any other fighting game (my personal favourite was always Virtua Fighter 2), merged the feel of Rock Band when Scott and his buddies need to give the occasional performance. This translates, in some respects, into a similar feel to Mortal Kombat, a movie literally adapted from a video game. But at the same time, SPVTW has much greater depth. The film allows itself to take a breath and develop character. Even the action sequences go beyond pure fighting and standard action movie one-liners - they too are full of character moments (especially the final battle). Ultimately, the action isn't the centre or the purpose of the movie, it's the moments between Scott and Ramona that are what the story is all about. The fights are so much window-dressing next to the story of Scott reaching up for Ramona and having to grow as a person to keep her, and Ramona letting down her guard and trusting that with Scott she can have something good.

In addition to being a smart film about the growth of a relationship, SPVTW is also very, very funny. Even though we'd seen most of it just days before, the parts we'd already seen were still a riot. Lots of great socially-awkward moments and geeky in-jokes, and Kieran Culkin's character, Wallace Wells, armed with his faster-than-consciousness gossip-spreading cell phone and the rotating cast of his bed, stole the show anytime he was onscreen.

The sound and visual effects were masterfully done as well, from the obvious stuff like the 8-bit sound for the the Universal theme at the opening (accompanied by the logo rendered like something out of an old Atari game cartridge) and the huge dual-stage face-off against exes 5&6, to the subtle stuff like the the little blings of sound underscoring movements or when characters realize something, and the footprints in the snow or motion streaks in the air.

Of course, while the centre of the movie is the story of two people, the fight scenes were undeniably cool. Hard to pick favourites, but the face-off against 5&6 was huge in visuals and sound - without giving too much away, think of Egg-Shen vs Loh-Pan in Big Trouble in Little China - on special effects steroids. For all of that though, the best combination of fighting, dialogue and character development undoubtedly goes to Scott's battle against the final ex (keep an eye out for Ramona's fight in the background - the look of that ashtray she's wielding, and the way she whips it around, reminds me very much of a Vulcan lirpa - makes me wonder if this is a deliberate ultra-geeky inside joke or if I'm just reading too much into the visuals).

If there's a problem with the movie, it's the character of Scott Pilgrim himself, at least for the first third of the story. He's so weak, so awkward, that he borders on being unlikeable. Granted, part of the point of the movie is that having to actively engage Ramona rather than just kind of drift along beside her - oh yeah, and beat-up a shit-load of obsessive, super-powered assholes - helps him grow into someone a bit more direct, decisive, and assertive, while still being a nice guy. But it's overdone. Scott's too pathetic. He's someone I almost just wanted to smack. Maybe it's the fact that Michael Cera has perfected this kind of character and wanted to take him a bit farther, maybe it was the script and directing overemphasizing the initial powerlessness of the character. I haven't read the original graphic novels, so I don't know how his performance and the scriptwriting compares to the template. Luckily, once Ramona enters the scene and things get rolling, Scott gradually becomes less annoying.

Having already seen it 1.5 times, I wouldn't rush out and see Scott Pilgrim vs The World again right away. But it was a great film and I do look forward to seeing it again in a while. If you haven't seen it yet and you're looking for a rollicking good time, be sure and see this great rock'n'roll adventure.
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