Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Allison Pill, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick
By Alan Bacchus
Yeah Toronto! The city featured as the location and setting of Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright, working for the first time, outside of Britain and without his mates from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, turns in a wild ambitious cinematic romp of monumental proportions. Its a fun, though ultimately soulless, film, but a must see for it's impressively complex cornucopia of visual styling.
The phantasm of stylistic flourishes which tells O'Malley’s far out cosmic romance of a meek 20-something bass player and his Blue-haired Anna Karina-type obsession, feels like a fanboy cumshot of geekdom – a mash-up of videogames, kung-fu sword play, dirty punk rock and hip beats supplied by Radiohead produced-turned composer Nigel Godrich, slapped onto the tried and true story of boy meets girl. Wright updates the notion of post modern pop culture beyond mere self-reference with a new paradigm of post modernism.
If there’s a comparison film, it’s probably the Oliver Stone’s treatment of celebrity in Natural Born Killers. With reckless abandon, and his foot firmly on the accelerator Wright, like Stone assaults us with sight and sound. Miraculously, Wright is completely in sync with the times, using his style to comment on the zeitgeist in the present.
The story, which you probably already know by now, goes like this. Scott Pilgrim (Cera) who has just broken up with his girlfriend rebounds to be in the company of a perky 17 year Chinese gal named Knives Chau, but when he catches sight of the aloof Ramona Flowers (Winstead) Pilgrim, he ditches Chau, and lasers on his latest obsession. But in order to date Flowers he has to defeat her 7 evil ex’s, in a series of one-on-one video game style Mortal Kombat duels.
Meanwhile Pilgrim plays bass in a rock band with his buddies, Stephen Stills (Webber), Young Neil and another former girlfriend Kim (Pill), as the drummer. Soon the confluence of her exes, his exes and his rock band with come into conflict with each other for a final battle for love.
It’s style over substance taken to near pornographic levels. Other than the video game iconography, kung-fu chop socking and thundering punk bass licks, the key aspect of Wright’s unique rhythm is his astonishing transitions - a term referring to the editing of one scene to another. The meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail of every frame results in an overall feeling that the film is one long set piece, which goes on and on, and arguably, losing some steam in the third act.
Wright's editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss employ every trick in the book, whip pans, smash cuts etc and whole set of new techniques – including transitioning in between the coverage of multiple conversations, match cutting dialogue, too many to keep track of really. It’s a style which is not entirely unmotivated. It all fits into Pilgrim’s impulsive obsessive mindset and Wright/O’Malley’s themes of new millennium attention deficit connectivity.
Wright employs the veteran DOP Bill Pope, perhaps a nod of respect to one of the film’s stylistic influences ‘Army of Darkness’ and ‘Evil Dead II’ – two Sam Raimi films with the same joie de vivre and innovation with transitions and camera gymnastics.
Unfortunately as much as we are impressed with the technical visual and aural extravaganza, there’s little beneath the surface to truly move us or even have the characters and the actions linger with us. Comparing to Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead’, which was as clever and aware with pop culture as Pilgrim, there was a heart and soul to Shaun's characters which stood over and above the style. In Pilgrim, there’s almost no romance going on, and we don’t care for a single moment if Pilgrim gets the girl at the end – or even which girl he’ll get at the end.
But there’s no denying that for most of the picture I sat with my mouth agape at the sheer thrill of delightful eye and ear candy of Wright’s film. It’s a phenomenal achievement and ride like few others offered in the cinema right now.