Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

There have been rare exceptions, such as Christophe Gans' Silent Hill, but most films adapted from video games have been failures. For a start, cinema can replicate only the vicarious experience of watching someone else playing a game, and never the more all-engrossing sensation of actually playing the game yourself – but perhaps more importantly, most video games are themselves based on motifs and genres lifted straight from cinema, so that by the time they are turned back into films again, their materials have become degraded, not unlike a third-generation photocopy.

Opening with the Universal logo presented in lo-res colour pixels and accompanied by an Atari-era jingle of beeps and squelches, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World advertises its associations with the video game even before the start of the film proper – and in what follows, every conflict, however banal or petty, will be resolved through hyperviolent, hyperbolic, hyperstylised bouts of mortal combat, complete with power-ups, extra lives and the loser exploding into a shower of coins.

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Yet the film, in fact drawn from the six-volume graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is not so much a video game adaptation as an imaginative translation of a young man's everyday experience into the visual language of video games. As such it offers genuinely fresh and funny insights into the joypad mentality of the generation brought up on Zelda, Street Fighter and Guitar Hero – which also just happens to be the generation at which the film is principally aimed (although much younger and much older viewers are likely to enjoy it, too).

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22-year-old unemployed slacker and so-so bassist from Toronto, comes with emotional baggage. He has just started dating a Catholic-Chinese 17-year-old called Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but everyone apart from the adoring Knives herself knows that she is just part of Scott's 'mourning period' as he still struggles to recover from being dumped more than a year ago by Envy Adams (Brie Larson). Then the older Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes roller-blading first into Scott's dreams, and shortly afterwards into his life, and Scott is totally smitten, even if he cannot quite bring himself to dump 'fake highschool girlfriend' Knives.

As Scott begins pursuing Ramona, he fast discovers that this moody New Yorker comes with hardcore emotional baggage of her own, and that if he wishes to win her, he will first have to defeat her seven evil exes in a series of high-kicking 'boss' death matches, in addition to dealing with Envy and Knives, and confronting his own dark (if still 'really nice') side.

Everything here is punctuated with the mannerist score bars, power meters and cartoonish conflict that charaterise video games, lending an engaging and often hilarious frame of hyperreality to events, but deep down Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World plays with much the same themes – identity and relationships in the formative years – as are found in the films of John Hughes. Meanwhile, the influence of two other, equally whimsical – but also equally heartfelt - films is acknowledged. Scott and a dye-haired Ramona are shown frolicking in the snow, in imitation of the couple from Eternal Sunshine Of Then Spotless Mind - and are no less cursed by love and loss. And Simon is a flawed adolescent sub-genius who spends much of his time evading the attentions of a Chinese-American schoolgirl, much like Max Fischer from Rushmore – an allusion that is clinched by the appearance of Jason Schwartzman as Ramona's seventh ex.

Like Michel Gondry's and Wes Anderson's films, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World wraps the awkwardnesses and anxieties of everyday life in heavily stylised packaging. Indeed, director (and co-writer) Edgar Wright specialises in comedies that incongruously match overblown genre cliches to the most mundane of circumstances – and following Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World he has hit the trifecta, inflecting and elevating his ensemble's common or garden neuroses with the not-so-simple cure-all afforded by multi-player tournaments.

The results are a surreal joy, transforming a likable loser into the epic hero that he is in his head. Wright's film is certainly a tad too long, with all his effects-laden directorial interventions and inventive battle sequences proving too evenly over-the-top - not to mention too exhausting - to provide any sense of real climax. But for all the postmodern presentation, every emotion here ultimately rings true, and there are enough great ideas, oddball characters, amiable performances and big laughs to ensure that this remains a cult favourite long after the world has forgotten the likes of Resident Evil, Alone In The Dark and Doom. For, unlike these films, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is endearingly relatable precisely because it celebrates the ordinary, focusing far more on the foibles and frailties of the players than on the invincible avatars of a game.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2010
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A man finds he has to defeat his girlfriend's evil ex-boyfriends.
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Director: Edgar Wright

Writer: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright, Bryan Lee O'Malley

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Aubrey Plaza, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Roxy Richter, Brandon Routh, Keita Saitou, Shota Saito

Year: 2010

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2012

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