Saturday, May 7, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Movie

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is what happens when you take a mumbling hipster flick and toss it into a blender along with video games and indie rock culture. Directed by Edgar Wright, the movie is based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s a frenzied, energetic ride, but it peters out early and falls into repetitive patterns that don’t keep the flow going.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World feels an awful lot like those paint-by-numbers films in that it tries very hard to push the right “cool” buttons. In casting Michael Cera as the slacker/musician/Canadian/gamer, the filmmakers essentially planted their feet in mumblecore and worked outward. While the movie can be entertaining in small doses, it doesn’t break as much new ground as it thinks it does.

Cera is Scott Pilgrim, a Canadian bass guitarist in the band Sex Bob-omb. He’s dating a high schooler curiously named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). This is somewhat taboo, as she’s just 17 and he’s 23. Pilgrim has a problem: he’s losing interesting in Knives. This is compounded when he discovers an infatuation with Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a girl from America. We know she’s cool because she’s aloof and because she colours her hair routinely.

Pilgrim’s infatuation lands him in a difficult and weird spot. See, he must battle Ramona’s seven evil exes. The fights take place with all the finery of video games, leading Scott to develop some seriously sick skills in the process. Throughout the fights and adventures, he also must deal with his evolving relationship and must decide what exactly to do with Knives Chau and his band. OMG, life is tough.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does well to explode the relationship problems of its hero into a video game extravaganza, I suppose. The line-up of exes isn’t nearly as fun as it could have been, however, and the last few combatants feel like rush jobs to wrap before the runtime explodes. Cera isn’t the greatest about mastering the fight choreography and the sequences take familiar paths that would have had more life had the star been better equipped. For fun, ridiculously comic fights, Kung Fu Hustle is still the one to beat.

The optical gimmicks are admirable. I enjoyed how the movie embraced its graphic novel roots, but is that really such an accomplishment given what can be done with effects? Seeing hearts flutter about after a kiss is cute and watching the words or “fight sounds” manifest themselves visually like they did in the old Batman TV series is a neat form of nostalgia, but there’s not much more to it than that.

The biggest problem isn’t how original Wright’s vision is or isn’t; it’s that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tries so hard to convince us of its hipness. From the absurdly pretentious character names (we should probably blame the source material for that) to the hollowness of Pilgrim’s relationship with Ramona, a basic humanity is missing. In its place is a completely shallow smattering of memes and catchphrases delivered in hectic, disorganized fashion as if to reinforce how cool everything’s supposed to be.

We’re to buy the relationships without question and buckle up for the visual treats to follow. We must accept the characters as labels and archetypes and not colourful people, simple as that. There’s no development, no complexity, no real reason to care beyond the superficial. It’s a world almost entirely comprised of memes, reading like a visit to a “hip” gamer website replete with vapid sloganeering and mumbled “whatevers.” Oh, and there’s a throwback Seinfeld reference complete with laugh track.

Part of me wishes I could still be satisfied fully by glossy energy and too-cool-for-school fun. I wish I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World more than I did, but there wasn’t enough meat here to keep my full attention. As the fight scenes began to look like earlier fight scenes, the effect of the effects waned and I lost interest in Wright’s film. It’s too bad, as his Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were consistently entertaining. This picture fizzles out far too soon and it winds up feeling an awful lot like watching someone else playing a video game.


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