Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I’m afraid I have an impossible task ahead of me: to write this review without gushing all over your screen.  But let’s get the basics out of the way.  Pilgrim tells (nearly) the same story as a series of six graphic novels centered around the eponymous main character.  The pertinent detail is this: I haven’t read the graphic novels.  Fans of the franchise have issued a cacophony of opinions about whether the movie accurately and adequately captured the story, character, and raw spunk of the books.  I won’t engage in any such speculation because I can’t…yet.

Instead, the movie was granted the chance to be my first impression of the franchise.  In this case, the ending makes an appropriate beginning.  I left the theater in a euphoric state.  The entire audience paraded out as though a magnificent secret had just been imparted to them; it was written on their faces.  Nothing about Pilgrim is lukewarm or even piping hot.  The movie captures what it means to be a poor, nerdy, twenty something, wraps it up in Christmas lights, and sets the whole thing ablaze.  I can see it inspiring hatred in those unfamiliar with its in-jokes and out of touch with their youth;  I know it inspires love from those who can see the protagonist as an on-screen cypher of themselves; but Pilgrim leaves no room in between.

Pilgrim takes its heritage and readership seriously.  The visual style shows deference to both the brightly colored page of a graphic novel and the epilepsy-inducing chaos of a video game.  The abrupt pacing and non-linear storytelling follow suit.  While the former may partly be a result of fitting a six volume story into two hours, it also feels like a conscious decision to keep the viewer’s awareness and energy elevated to abnormal levels.  Catch me if you can, Pilgrim says.

Without having read the books, I can’t say how much the inventive direction owes to them.  Regardless, Director Edgar Wright, previously best known for Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, has certainly shown a precocious knack for pointing the camera in precisely the right place.  Pilgrim features a bevy of intense, intricate action scenes, but Wright manages to make the complex clear and highlights the creativity of the choreography.

If Pilgrim was going to fail anywhere, I mused before the movie released, then the casting could well prove to be the weak link.  Michael Cera has fast become the most annoyingly typecast actor in Hollywood.  The freshness he brought to Arrested Development petrified into a mold utilized by every role he has inhabited since.  This persona does take the stage during some of the runtime, but it’s carefully counterbalanced by some decidedly anti-Cera character quirks, and Cera, given the chance to stretch his wings, handles them with aplomb.  The result?  I was watching Scott Pilgrim, not Michael Cera.  Cera is joined by a host of ridiculously talented no-names.  Ellen Wong, for example, had only been in three tv episodes prior to Pilgrim but forges her character into one of the movie’s most memorable elements.  If I were a woman, I’d have my Halloween costume figured out.  Other unexpected folks come out of nowhere; Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman all give performances that add an extra dimension to their previous bodies of work.  And I can’t end this paragraph without mentioning Kieran Culkin, who expertly provides one of the comedic anchors of the film.

This mad maelstrom of a film is set to mood-matching electronica, angst-ridden rock, and even a romantic ditty or two.  So far as I can remember, there isn’t any orchestral work here, and nor should there be.  Again, the film pays homage to some of its nerdy heritage through auditory winks and nudges.  While there’s little here to comment on without spoilers, the music and sound design perfectly perform their function: amplifying the visual material.

With Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the summer finally has its true king.  I spent the runtime of the movie in three physical states: laughing, wildly grinning, or picking my jaw up off of the floor.  Let me tell you a sad story.  Pilgrim barely broke 10 million in box office sales this past weekend.  At a budget of 60 million (which it employs with staggering efficiency), Pilgrim is operating far under expectations.  I incited readers to see The Last Airbender and Inception, but I should have saved my words.  More films like Airbender will be made even if a sequel, itself, doesn’t happen.  Inception has long eclipsed its production budget and proven that films of its ilk can succeed.  Yet Pilgrim, a blinding flash of originality, risks becoming the only film in its class.  On a broader level, a more disturbing pattern emerges.  Hollywood has taken some risks lately in adapting unconventional comic books (Wanted, Kick-Ass, Watchmen, Pilgim, etc.) and the large majority of them have underperformed in ticket sales.  Studios will continue to make anything Marvel and DC throw at them; regular superhero movies are crafted to be easily digestible for all audiences and have proven themselves formidable cash cows.  But if people (nerds, I’m calling you out especially) continue to give movies like Pilgrim the wait-for-dvd treatment or worse yet, pirate them, Hollywood will find this sub-genre undeserving of money it had previously been funneling through.  So go see Pilgrim- it’ll rock your world.

The Round-Up
Snarky storytelling, colorful characters, and a meaningful conclusion combine to produce a superlative screenplay.
Cera gets some opportunities to shuffle off his rigid typecasting. He and his fellow actors succeed in bringing a new world to life.
Edgar Wright is officially a red hot dot on my personal radar. Here's hoping studios continue to give him large piles of cash.
Delightfully outlandish and playfully abrasive...just like the rest of the movie.
This is why I watch movies. Now I want the books, the video game, there a lunchbox?

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