Review: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)

scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world3Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim

It’s going to be difficult to properly put into words the exact experience that I had as I watched Edgar Wright‘s adaptation of the comic series Scott Pilgrim vs. the World splash across the screen in a frenzied 8-bit orgy of video game action, fuzzed-out rock and roll, and candyshop color.

To quote the overearnest lead singer in twentysomething slacker Scott Pilgrim’s garage band: Just thinking about it, “I’m starting to get tingly”.

sc12

I have not had this much fun in a movie theater in years. Sure, plenty of movies have moved or upset me (like, say, District 9 or Dancer in the Dark or Pan’s Labyrinth) – but I’m talking about having eye-popping, jaw-dropping, balls-out-in-the-drink-holder fun. In fact, the last time I can remember feeling the surge of electric joy that hit me about 3 minutes into Scott Pilgrim was when I first saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch on opening night.

From the pre-credits studio logo – a wonderfully pixellated Universal globe, complete with arcade-quality theme music – it’s evident that this movie has one thing on its mind: to tickle you senseless. After a cute bit of slacker banter among the titular Scott (Michael Cera) and his Sex Bob-Bomb bandmates, the kids plug in and unleash a fuzzy blast of garage punk over the opening titles that seriously brought me to tears of wonder.

I almost fist-pumped.

sc8Brendan Routh rocks out

And let’s be clear, I’m not a fist-pumper. Nor am I a big video game player, or a comic fan – two types that you might think would be guaranteed fertile ground for this kind of movie. But I’m living proof that this movie isn’t just for the nerdboys. Whatever the magic formula is, I want to thank Wright and his team of extremely talented artisans for finding it and for piecing this moshpit of colors, action, humor, heart, wit, snark, music, and sheer pop beauty together for me.

Folks, I entered that theater a man but left it a squealing, sugarbombed teenage girl. With a beard.

Scott Pilgrim‘s episodic setup (which isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as it sounds, so don’t worry) is this: After meeting the girl of his dreams – literally – he is forced to battle her Seven Evil Exes in order to date her. Complicating matters are his high-school girlfriend, his aloof gay roommate (and bedmate), his scrappy band, and his text-crazed sister.

sc2Scott and Ramona (Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

But Scott’s biggest obstacle isn’t the superpowered douchebags who begin attacking him at every turn – it’s his own lack of actualization. While on the surface the movie might seem to be a disposable videogame/martial arts mashup set to loud music, it’s much more than that – it’s a wistful and thoroughly adolescent view of the challenges of falling in love with someone who has a romantic past of their own.

The Princess Peach of this scenario – Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – is an acerbic, Manic-Panicked mess on rollerblades. And the idea that Scott has to battle her exes before winning her heart isn’t that ridiculous, when you think about it – we all bring our romantic baggage to the table, and when embarking on a new romantic adventure, there’s always an element of comparison to one’s prior flings. There are emotional dustbunnies that need to be swept away, and Scott’s quest to topple Ramona’s bad boyfriends (and one bad girlfriend) is simply a more entertaining way of doing it than listening to two romcom swooners talk about it for hours over coffee.

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But enough about love – this movie’s real strength is its inexhaustible imagination. There are more¬† sight gags, sound gags, visual tricks and sleights of hand than you can count.¬† Wrights has shown in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz that he knows how to set up and execute visual comedy, but in Pilgrim he kicks in into rapid-fire overdrive. Is it short attention-span theater for the ADD generation? Sure. But look around, folks – it ain’t going anywhere. And at least Wright’s doing it with wit and skill.

And visually, the movie is a marvel. It’s fucking GORGEOUS. The closest comparison I can make is the Wachowski Brothers’ ill-received but completely insane Speed Racer - like Speed, Scott is hyperkinetic, hyper-stylized, and hyperactive. But it’s done so cleanly and with such care that rather than being a confused mess, it’s more like getting a shot in the arm of Red Bull and Pixie Stix.

scottwallaceKieran Culkin and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

I have to at least mention Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and the movie’s wonderfully blithe take on sexuality. Scott and Wallace share a bed – even when Wallace has a guy (or guys) over. Even though Wallace is the gay one, Scott’s the “bitch”. Ramona also has a lesbian ex that confronts her (and rather hilariously calls her a “hasbian”). That a movie so clearly aimed at young people can include gay characters and themes so effortlessly and without a whiff of judgment, shame or apology is incredibly encouraging.

So who knows – maybe all those hours spent at arcades as a kid planted tiny landmines in my brain that were just waiting for this movie to come along to set off. Or maybe Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is simply a fresh, fun and exciting ball of tingle that even a fuddy-duddy like me can enjoy. Either way, chances are that if you give it a shot, you’ll get more than your quarter’s worth.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

ReviewFiveSkully

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is rated PG-13 for action violence, harm to vegans, and total fucking awesomeness.


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