Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Fond Welcome to My World: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

| by Allan Stackhouse |

It can be a struggle for me to keep a fresh perspective on films. If I don't watch something opening weekend, the reviews following a film's release inundating my brain can be like a dark ink that taints a jar of water. Luckily, I had the opportunity to see Edgar Wright's newest venture, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, last weekend. After seeing it, I now liken Edgar Wright as the Pixar of live action motion pictures in his ability to consistently produce high quality films. Justin Thomas has broken down the high marks of Shaun of the Dead and the sheer perfection of Hot Fuzz. It is my pleasure to say that Edgar Wright has done it again. The film most unexpectedly embodied some of my favorite things: kung fu, fabulous gays, and hipster bashing.

I imagine that the majority of people who see the film will be unfamiliar with the source material as I was. The funny bits in the trailers and some nice fight scene clips stirred interest but much unlike The Last Airbender, the movie actually delivers in visual effects and story. There's a million things that are funny, the fight scenes are thrilling, and the characters are so juicy I can't stand it. I can unequivocally say that this movie is for everyone. There's fight scenes for the boys (and girls), a love story for the girls (and boys), and dazzling visual effects and humor for the masses.

Michael Cera. If the discussion on Michael Cera's acting ability was not yet over, let it be over with Scott Pilgrim. The character he portrays is another departure from the awkwardness of George Michael Bluth. Just as with Francois Dillinger in Youth in Revolt, he personifies a lady killer. Not an unlikable one though, he's someone who we can get behind, despite him, at 22, dating a 17 year old private school girl. He may not make the best decisions but he's bright eyed and a good person. The decisions he makes throughout the film prove that he is a flawed character but, with the counsel of his sister, played by the amazing Anna Kendrick of Up in the Air, he maintains an air of determination for what he wants out of life.

Bradley James Allan, fresh off his work on Kick Ass, gives us more of the amazing high-flying stunt work that makes my heart race. Those of us who grew up with anime and video games are more familiar with these standout characters who perform quick and devastating moves. We've seen it on Dragon Ball Z, now we want more movies to do it with real people. Edgar Wright and maybe Hollywood too understands that this kind of martial arts is cool, when done right, f*cking cool. Bradley worked and studied under the Jackie Chan stunt team so he knows what he's doing and how to take it to the next level. Wushu is simply beautiful to watch and these moves in tandem with a brilliant new property AND special effects produced visually dazzling results. As someone who's grown up with Jackie Chan's films, the throwbacks to Jackie's moves in old movies were so appreciated: notably, the boob punch from Armour of God and the girl-assisted fight from one of the three Police Story movies, I don't remember which one.

My absolute favorite fight, even though all of them were terrific, was Scott and Ramona versus evil ex number 4, Roxy Richter. In the scene, Ramona decides to take Roxy on herself, a ginormous hammer that would make Thor's jealous versus a vicious battle chain. The rules of the match requires Scott to defeat her himself and, in a beautifully choreographed scene, Ramona physically controls Scott's body to help defeat her. This kind of choreography not only looks challenging but it adds layers into the story, informing the viewers that 1, Ramona is a skilled fighter herself and 2, she cares enough about Scott to help him defeat Roxy.

Especially pleasing to me was a positive portrayal of a gay character, personified by the third, and nonetheless talented Culkin brother, Kieran. Some might argue that the character of Wallace being so promiscuous does not accurately represent all gay men. To that, I argue that every gay person has a promiscuous friend or at least knows of a slutty gay friend. These people exist and I was thrilled that the movie so accurately and unashamedly included this character as a positive influence on Scott's life. He provided an enormous amount of humor and I'm so grateful that this film exposed fans of comic books and action movies to a gay character that wasn't tokenized. These characters are oft found in chick flicks that and they are often anecdotal. Wallace is caring, honest, sexually selfish, and fabulous. I absolutely adored this character.

If you happen to be a hipster, I'm sorry but I hate you and your kind. I don't appreciate the rags you wear, your lack of hygiene, the veganism pedestals from which you look down upon others, your vocally challenged singers in your bands, and your incessant depressed attitudes. Thankfully, Edgar Wright feels the same way I do. The hipster demon chicks made me laugh so hard and so loudly. The scene in which Scott must pass through the hipster security to get to G-Man's lair was almost too much. To send me even further over the moon, this was done TWICE.

What does work in particular for the film that would not work for the graphic novel was the music. I'm not the biggest fan of bands but this music completely made the film. Sex Bob-Omb is a genuinely good band with a good sound. Selling one's sound to an audience with scenes that are so integral to the film was not an easy task yet it was executed expertly. I wanted Sex Bob-Omb to absolutely destroy their competition. This competition entwining with Scott's quest to defeat the League of Evil Exes was a stroke of brilliance on Brian Lee O'Malley, the graphic novel's writer. Two conflicts are always better than one. Film wise. In real life, that's not so fun.

In this film in particular, the constant vignettes made the film feel more like a video game. I found these additions to form an immersive experience. The pee bar was on screen for all of three seconds yet it serves as another indication to the audience of what is going on in the scene while obviously also providing another layer of humor. Edgar Wright is a master of adding these details and layers into his films and it is something I cannot get enough of. Let this prove as an example that an immersive experience can be created without depending on 3D cameras or 3D conversion.

Unfortunately, in contrast to Justin Thomas' view of Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim is not perfect. Like Shaun of the dead, there is just one particular part that doesn't really make sense. Scott's lack of decision between Ramona and Knives is not only frustrating but did not play out well in the last scene of the film following G-Man's defeat. His decision to be with Knives instead of Ramona was left a little too ambiguous for me. Scott, having fought so hard for Ramona, ends up choosing Knives, and then, not a minute later, Knives encourages Scott to go to Ramona, who we want him to be with and was the point of the film. Indecision at the point of resolution was a really poor choice and ultimately an unfortunate way to end such a great film.

As I'm finishing my edits on this, I find myself wanting to watch the film again. Besides embodying some of my favorite things, the film had a great story, was visually immersive, and had some amazing action scenes. The ending really could have been better but this being its only flaw doesn't make me love the movie any less. I don't have money to be spending on entertainment but I think I may have to buy that set of Scott Pilgrim books that's yet to be released.

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