Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

6a00d8341c630a53ef01348592fd1a970c-800wi Here’s something the Kenyon College English Department drilled into my head: Form is content. The way something is made – its style, for lack of a better word – is as significant to its being as its characters or plot. James Joyce embraced form in Ulysses, which focuses on an ordinary day in the ordinary life of an ordinary man; Stephen King, on the other hand, dishes out vivid but simple prose in the service of fantastic tales.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is all form. If you’re looking for dynamic characters, go see The Kids Are All Right. If you’re looking for plot, see Inception. If you’re wondering whether Pilgrim, a film where Michael Cera battles the seven evil exboyfriends of some mopey chick with technicolored hair, is What You Should Do This Friday Night, watch this. If you pass out, suffer an epileptic fit or simply roll your eyes, your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

But if you’re like me, the hyperactive glitz and sharp wit is enough. Just go see it. Pilgrim isn’t deep, nor is it particularly good. It’s just unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world-movie-image-22-600x321 I’ll gloss over the plot, because that’s all the movie bothers to do: Scott Pilgrim. He plays bass. He dates a high-schooler with the totally awesome name of Knives. Then he meets Ramona. Ramona has purple hair and sulks about on rollerblades (how does one sulk on rollerblades?). Scott falls in love. Then he’s attacked by a Bollywood-dancing ex-boyfriend, and the ensuing fight plays out like Street Fighter meets Superbad.

Repeat five more times (the twin Japanese DJs count as two, which I think is unfair). Maybe he gets the girl. I don’t remember. I saw this movie four days ago.

I’m now regretting the Ulysses comparison some are probably drawing. They shouldn’t. Kieran Culkin is splendid as Scott’s gay roommate, but his character’s sardonic remove does the movie no favors: it seems to say: no one watches porn for the character development. Sit back, enjoy the ride.

You’re going to see Scott Pilgrim because it looks really, really cool. When Michael Cera flies across the room to punch a vegan bass player (“vegan,” by the way, means telekinetic), the screen splits like a comic book panel. When his band, Sex Bob-omb, kicks off one of their crunchy rock signatures, the scene pulses with light and throbs with the beat. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) isn’t showing us what a band playing music looks like – he’s trying to show us what the music itself looks like.

The fight scenes are absolutely electric. I name-checked venerable fighting game Street Fighter above, but what director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) does here is like Street Fighter on a fistful of amphetamines. That vegan? His eyes smoke. The Japanese DJs summon a pair of dragons with their music. When the boyfriends are inevitably defeated, they explode into a shower of gold coins.

Hear that? That’s the collective nerdgasm rumbling across America, where every good geek loves his Mario. Giving Wright the considerable credit he deserves, no one’s ever made a movie quite like Scott Pilgrim. Curiosities like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? come close, but Wright brings a kinesis to fight scenes that make Jason Bourne’s encounters look like clumsy grappling.


Critics have called Pilgrim the first decent videogame movie, seeming to forget it’s actually based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Really, Pilgrim is a pastiche of nerd culture conflated with indie sensibilities. Cera looks right at home in Toronto, home of indie rock standards Broken Social Scene and Metric (the latter even contributes the movie’s most sizzling original track).

This is high-level nerd culture – no Halo or Gears of War here. The introductory Universal Studios fanfare played in 8-bit bleeps and bloops. They liked this shit before it was cool.

Let’s talk about Michael Cera for a moment. I have it on good authority that O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim isn’t a mumbly shoegazer – you know, the type Cera has played in every role from Arrested Development to Juno. It makes Wright’s adaptation of O’Malley’s comic seem more like an appropriation; it likes the nerd cred, but it could care less about the characters. Isn’t that condescending to the same audience it courts?

Geek-theorizing aside, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a blast to behold. The substance is airy, even glib, but your brain will be too busy processing the bright lights to really care. Scott Pilgrim explodes off the screen, and it exists for no other purpose.

It’s fun. Remember fun?