Toronto. Winter. Snow. Iconic? Perhaps. Stereotype reinforcement for the world? Definitely. Especially for a movie released mid-August. But you know what? It is all good. As a Canadian watching an unabashed Hollywood movie embracing the source material and not relocating it; seeing snow in every outdoor shot warmed my heart more and more as the story progressed.
Coming at this movie as one unfamiliar with the source matter, apprehension is a given as part of the post 30 crowd that I would not be able to ‘get’ this story. Much less enjoy it. But when the opening graphics for the Universal logo and its accompanying fanfare came out in 8 bit video game style, director Edgar Wright provides a way in for a much larger audience.
The result? I had a blast.
Director Edgar Wright displays a masterful grasp of the material and how he wants to present it cinematically. The film employs a quick cutting style that moves the characters from place to place via amazing edits. He allows the movie time to breathe even though things are happening at a break neck pace. This gives the audience time to adapt and then anticipate when the next jump is going to take place. With the movie rhythms established, Wright is then free to let the shot compositions and editing go off the hook into the truly fantastical when the Ramona’s first Evil X shows up. It is at the moment I knew the movie was in sure hands and would not stumble.
Getting that feeling is one of my favourite movie going experiences.
When the first Evil X shows up the movie soars as the battle between him and Scott Pilgrim plays out. It is during that sequence that Wright takes total command of the audience. I could see and feel the audience move from enjoyment to total enthrallment. Scott Pilgrim may be battling the world but Edgar Wright sure won over the movie audience with my viewing. This picture has to get Oscar nominations for Director and Editing. Both are so good. There are so many great beats and moments through out the film that it will take multiple viewings to catch them all.
The story itself is nothing new. It is about young people finding out who they are and reaching out to find someone to spend time with. Maybe for a while. Maybe for forever. A story about growing up. What is different is how pervasive social culture has become in their lives even more so because of the instant accessibility of content through technology. Case in point, I was just watching a live Twitcast from the set of the Chuck TV series as they were shooting an episode! Could anyone have imagined things like this even a couple of years ago? So when the status of Scott Pilgrim’s social life is disseminated to all his friends instantaneously and he gets immediate feedback the humor is obvious.
The cast is uniformly excellent with those playing Ramona’s Seven Evil X’es having the most fun ones to play. Brandon Routh is the standout as a Vegan powered Evil X #3 and is hilarious with his dark hair bleached out. His eventual incarceration by the Vegan Police is a hoot and one of the many great surprises. Michael Cera acquits himself well in the titular role of Scott Pilgrim. He has the toughest role to play, as is often the case with the protagonist, because his journey is the narrative thrust of the story leaving little dramatic manoeuvring room. Everyone else gets to play off of Cera with often entertaining results. Most notable is a scene, and boyfriend, stealing Keiran Culkin; who eerily seems to be channeling a young Robert Downey Jr., as Scott’s gay room mate. He is also an Instant Messaging King capable of doing so in his sleep.
The movie weaves so much pop culture history into itself that at times I was experiencing vibes from such things as John Hughe’s coming of age movies to the Id Monster from Forbidden Planet during one of the climatic battle scenes to the Biff, Bam, and Ka-Pow action balloons from the Adam West Batman TV series. The fight scenes are the most direct video game references in their Versus presentations and choreographed moves and poses. Other cute video game visual cues include an extra life icon and my favourite, the ‘Pee Bar.’ There is some great music peppered throughout the movie too.
In the end what pushes the movie from being just being very good to great is, as always, the writing. The characters grow and learn in the movie. Scott and Ramona come to understand that their problems with past breakups is more than mere vilification of their previous partners. They are not the only ones that have been hurt. They discover that their actions have caused their former mates pain too. Scott and Ramona learn to accept that they have blame in their past relationships. All that wrapped up in a kinetically energetic fun and hip flick without any whiff of being preachy.
Scott Pilgrim is taking on the world starting with a resounding victory at your local cinema. Go see it.
To quote a band from my time, ‘A splendid time is guaranteed for all!’