So, after a fairly relentless marketing campaign and an incredibly disappointing opening in America, British audiences now get a chance to see Edgar Wright’s take on the cult Canadian comic series Scott Pilgrim. And, even though it’s debatable if it will find a wider audience over here, it must be said that taken on it’s own terms Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an absolute triumph.
Telling the story of Toronto slacker Scott, his brilliantly terrible band Sex Bob-Omb (the name, like many things in the film, a reference to Nintendo games of the late 80s and early 90s), and the girl of his dreams (literally) Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim might have it’s basis in low key mumble-core style navel-gazing comedy, but then it cranks things up to 11 by throwing in the obstacle of Ramona’s seven evil exes, and a lot of surprisingly well-choreographed fight scenes. In order to perhaps make such wackiness palatable to more sceptical audience members, Wright has claimed that the film could be seen as taking place in Scott’s head, and while it would make sense that such fevered nonsense could be the result of Scott’s over-caffeinated imagination (even the soda based product placement in the film is well-thought out), it’s more fun to just take the events at face value and believe that such things as impromptu Bollywood-style musical numbers, demon hipster chicks and psychic vegans are possible.
It’s unlikely that fans of the books (themselves some of the most amusing and imaginative work in the field of graphic novels, and recent literature in general) will have any grievances with Wright as much of the film is lifted right off the pages of creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work. There were initial grumblings about Michael Cera’s casting in the lead role but he manages to pull it off well – admittedly he is still very much ‘Michael Cera’, but pleasingly the screen Pilgrim keeps much of his inked counterpart’s charm, as well as his less attractive self-obsession. Besides, despite his name being in the title Scott isn’t the main draw anyway, but rather the rich background of supporting characters – all parts are cast to very closely match the original book designs, and a parade of recognisable faces turn up in even the smallest roles. The women of Pilgrim’s world are also far much more interesting than those usually offered in the action-comedy genre, with not only Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona providing a suitable match for Pilgrim’s positive and negative qualities but other particular stand-outs including Ellen Wong as Scott’s school-girl ex-girlfriend Knives who is delightfully sweet, hyperactive and, as her name would suggest, a mean fighter in her own right and the ever-reliable Alison Pill providing an amusingly bitter commentary on the events of Scott’s love-life as Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer Kim. Although, as many other reviewers have mentioned, Kieran Culkin steals the film from everybody as Scott’s snarky gay room (and bed) mate Wallace.
There is a downside to the film in that Wright has squeezed six books worth of plot into less than two hours of screen time while making sure that many of his and the fans’ favourite moments are kept in, meaning that events, jokes and characters have the habit of flying by before they have a chance to sink in. Wright’s previous work on Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was already fast paced and frantic but it’s pushed to the limit in this film (with the amount of background visual and audio gags stuffed in as well, it seems like no frame of film is wasted). People over a certain age may have a problem with the ADHD style film-making, as would those who demand character development in their films – Scott may learn a lesson at the end, but it’s as much a playful dig at the usual last minute moral revelation in rom-coms as it is a plot point, and one of the few major deviations from the books’ plot-line is in the (fairly justified) snipping of the later volumes’ maudlin soul searching. It’s a good thing that Scott Pilgrim wasn’t released in 3D as this much scattershot editing coupled with the effect of the 3D glasses would have induced waves of nausea in the audience, if not full blown aneurysms. Although, judging by the film’s poor reception in the States, cramming everything in seemed to be the best decision, rather than having to leave proceedings on a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger. The frenetic nature of the action does also mean that Scott Pilgrim will reward multiple re-watches and will hopefully result in the film doing great business on DVD, after all something this unique and inventive really does deserve to find an audience that appreciates it.