Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

There are a few directors out there whose films present audiences with a quandary. Scene by scene, they are a pleasure to watch, with superb acting, well-written and nuanced scripts, sensitive and apposite direction and flawless production values. Spread over the course of two hours, however, the lack of narrative momentum can end up becoming extremely wearying. I’ve always put Sam Mendes and Ang Lee’s films in these categories, but, on the evidence of Scott Pilgrim vs The World, it might be time for Edgar Wright to join their band.

What’s so annoying and frustrating about Scott Pilgrim is that it’s clearly the work of an incredibly talented director. I was about to write ‘Wright is different to most British directors working today in that he didn’t come to film via theatre or television’, but this of course ignores his seminal sitcom Spaced, as well as early work with David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Spaced, in particular, was one of the very few sitcoms where the style of the direction was at least as important as the script, due to Wright’s bold homaging of countless sci-fi and horror films. Continuing his partnership with Simon Pegg, he then made Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, both of which are problematic. Both are splendidly entertaining romps in their own way, with numerous clever/funny references to the classic films that influenced them. But they’re just films made out of nostalgic allusions to other films, the ‘does anyone remember Bagpuss?’ school of cinema, rather than standing up as movies in their own right.

Wright’s first major work without Pegg, his adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series fits in a vast amount in its running time, but at heart the story is a remarkably simple one. Slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is dating the sweet Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and plays bass in the band Sex Bob-Omb, as well as living with his sarcastic gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin – yes, brother of Macaulay). His life is thrown into disarray firstly when he meets his literal dream girl, the punky Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and then when he realises that, in order to date her, he has to defeat her seven evil exes, including Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. Oh, and this is done in the style of a 1980s video game, including extra lives, power ups and defeated foes exploding into showers of coins.

For the first 30-40 minutes, Wright’s film is an exhilarating display of cinematic technique, combining witty dialogue, eye-popping visual set-pieces and a dynamic pace. The characters often function as little more than cartoonish punchlines, but initially at least this all adds to the fun. Cera offers yet another variation on his hapless naïf persona, but is offset by the charming Wong and the oh-so-dry Winstead, and the top-class supporting cast (including Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister and Alison Pill as the permanently outraged band’s drummer) make all this splendidly entertaining. As scene after scene goes by in an enjoyable haze of nostalgia references and ‘WTF!’ displays of outlandish special effects, it’s hard not to get caught up in the ride.

Unfortunately, as the film continues, it becomes entirely clear that it’s not going to develop in any particularly interesting or meaningful manner. The fights with the evil exes, impressive on their own terms, descend into a tedious parade of the same visual tics (words coming out of the screen, extreme comic-book styled close ups, slow motion fighting), and the central relationships don’t fully involve the audience either. Knives is sweet; Ramona is damaged goods; Scott is a slacker. That’s yer lot for character development.  Some of the cameos – Brandon Routh’s vegan bassist with special powers – are hilarious, but they just feel like a cartoonish sideshow from a progressively less interesting central narrative.

The film has been a notable flop in the US, perhaps because of a marketing campaign that didn’t really appear to know how to sell the film. No doubt the kind of people who would like to have been in Sex Bob-Omb and those in the hip echelons in large cities will love it; I can see this becoming very much a cult item in years to come. For the rest of us, this has to be viewed as a dazzling failure, a work that clearly shows that Wright, rather like Guy Ritchie, is an intensely promising visual talent who would be best advised to work from someone else’s script next time round.

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One Response to “Scott Pilgrim Vs The World”

  1. Do you take up literature? Your posts are really quite insightful and thought provoking. And I need to read some of your reviews twice before I really get what you’re trying to bring across. 😀

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