Movie Review – Scott Pilgrim vs The World

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- Summary -

Director : Edgar Wright
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Brie Larson.
Approx Running Time : 119 Minutes
Synopsis: Scott Pilgrim has a dilemma: he has a girlfriend, but he’s suddenly met the girl of his dreams at the public library. However, his main problem comes from the act that he must now fight her Seven Evil Ex’s before he can date her, a feat which could kill him. And he must do this while also playing in a pretty average band.
What we think : Stunning visual and comedic masterpiece from director Edgar Wright, and a testament to the sheer power and magic of cinema. This is a feel-good film for the ages, the kind of movie Hollywood should make more of, rather than less. Easily Cera’s most approachable role, he performs the films’ monumental fight sequences with the style and grace of Neo in The Matrix, with a lot more cool-factor to boot. Easily, the best film of 2010.

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Okay, I’m converted. This film, everything from the Atari-esque Universal opening title card, to the magical, mythical finale, is so close to perfection it’s like staring into the sun. Blindingly so. I’ll warn you now, this review is going to be a multi-paragraph love-letter to Edgar Wright and the team behind what has to be one of the single best films ever made. Scott Pilgrim manages to be both comedy and action film all in one, a delicate balance under normal circumstances, but with Edgar Wright behind the camera, instead becomes a singular comic-book-film-brought-to-life entity that must be seen to be believed. I laughed my ass off watching this film, and was astonished, yes, astonished, at the superbly choreographed fight sequences and how seamlessly they are interwoven into the story. As I write this, I’m trying to invent a new hyperbole to describe the sheer joy, the laughter and the impossibility this film engenders in the viewer. Even my wife, the gorgeous Lisa T, uttered the most hard-to-prize-from-her-lips words ever uttered while watching this film: “That is SO cool!“, a statement which could very well be accompanied by the Earth splitting open and creating a black hole of impossible stupendousness. It’s that rare. To say Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is a dynamic film is to equate a good foot massage with a multiple orgasm. Scott Pilgrim is a blast, from start to finish, and is essential viewing for everyone, be they male or female, because it’s just so cool.

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Man, I’m gonna f*** you up!

I almost don’t want to give you any details of this film, so you can discover and savour the moments as they occur while watching them for yourself: but in order to adequately clarify my statements, you must be made aware of the basic premise (for the few of you reading this who will actually go watch it based on my say-so!). Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a Toronto-based bass guitarist for local band “Sex Bob-omb”, has just got himself a girlfriend: 17 year old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a young girl who falls head over heels for him. While meeting Knives at the local library, Scott also encounters Ramona Flowers, an American girl with a dark, mysterious past (a past which, of course, Scott simply must uncover) who he starts to date as well. When he’s attacked by one of Ramona’s former boyfriends, Scott learns that in order to date Ramona, he must fight and defeat all 7 of her past relationships: in a Mortal Kombat/StreetFighter style battle to the death. That’s the basic premise of the film, and I’ll state right here and now that there’s so much going on in this film it’s nigh impossible to disclose much more here without spoiling the film for you. Lets’ just say that Scott Pilgrim is a kooky action-genre film with the heart and soul of a teen-romantic dramadey.

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Oh boy, how was he EVER going to explain that?

After the runaway success of cult hit Shaun of The Dead, and the equally brilliant follow-up Hot Fuzz, I was in some doubt that director Edgar Wright could possibly make it three from three. After all, the dream teaming of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were nowhere to be seen this time round, instead the film relied on the schmutzy-comedy styling of Michael Cera, perhaps best known for his roles in Superbad and Juno. His thin, lanky (nerdy) style lent itself quite well to the thin, lanky (nerdy) character of Scott Pilgrim, a character born in the world of comics. I’ve never read a Scott Pilgrim comic, nor had I even heard of Scott Pilgrim as a comic until I saw this film, so my knowledge of the world the characters come from is limited to virtually nil. That being said, Pilgrim strikes me as somewhat of an Everyman character, the kind of wimpy, put-down struggling young man with little prospects (he’s sleeping on his gay friends blow-up mattress in a basement apartment for crying out loud) and a desire to one day sleep with a girl. He’s the fantasy in all of us, the fantasy of being able to rise above the troubles of life and battle your way to victory. Cera is his typical self in this role, and thankfully, it fits him perfectly. He’s hardly leading-man material, in most cases, but here he’s good enough to swallow his pride and go to some difficult places as an actor. His main co-star in the film, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, plays Ramona, and she’s dark and angry all over the place, while at the same time remaining soft in the middle. Like an eclair, really. Her sensitivity is shown in glimpses, her history (her ex’s are, after all, all kinds of angry representations of the human race) and her emotional state gradually chipped away by as Scott battles his way past ex after ex. Scotts younger love interest, Knives Chau, is all smiles and teeth in Ellen Wong, and played with that annoying perky teen-hyper style to perfection.

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Ka-POW!

The screenplay is a zippy little affair from Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall, touching on both the absurdity of the scenario and the teen angst associated with love and it’s trappings. This is, mainly, a love story of sorts, although it does tend to be buried beneath the rapid-fire editing and enormous battle sequences. Still, at the core of the script is Scott’s search for love, a kind of self-serving character arc that makes him seem a little hard-hearted at first, but eventually comes round to being empathetic. The dialogue is snappy, with Cera, Kulkin and Winstead getting a fair portion of the best stuff, while the plot does tend to drift into the farcical absurd, it remains true right through to the end.

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Slowly does it, take it slowly… remember what happened last time?

Where the film is an absolute jaw dropper is the use of the fight sequences to further the story. Much like The Matrix, which gave us massive fight sequences that actually allowed the story to continue, rather than simply exist for the sake of it, Scott Pilgrim’s fight sequences are superbly choreographed and shot, filmed in a very Manga-esque manner, and edited like the feeding frenzy of a group of sharks with the scent of blood. Cera, who purportedly filmed a lot of his own fighting stunts and sequences, is extraordinary for such a weedy lookin’ kid in that he takes on the fighting styles he’s been taught and amplifies them to the extreme. I’ll admit he’s aided by some truly amazing effects, and a fairly large degree of stunt-work and CGI doubles, but he appears to actually be doing a lot of it himself, and for that he’s to be commended. In fact, both he and Jason Schwartzman, who appears in the film’s brutal finale, go toe-to-toe at one point in a showdown equal to, if not better than, anything we saw in the Matrix films, and most of that is not in slo-motion! The approximation of an arcade game visual style to accompany the fighting sequences will bring a smile to even the most cynical viewer’s face, as will the Power Rangers colour palette and Akira-esque camera angles and shot choices. If there’s one thing Edgar Wright can do, it’s make action sequences look awesome. And by awesome, I mean AWESOME.

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Her response to the “nice scarf” comment left a little to be desired.

From a visual aesthetic, I wish to take my hat off to the wonderful Bill Pope, he who shot the Matrix trilogy, for his work here. He makes every frame of this film pop with energy, from the drab Toronto background to the flashy, cartoony style of the clubs and battle locations – Scott Pilgrim looks amazing and it’s thanks to him. One of the most entertaining things I noticed about the film, is Wrights use of different aspect ratio framing on key sequences. The film is shot in a flatter 1.85:1 aspect, although it does tend to close up to a 2.40:1 aspect at times, perhaps a tip of the hat (Ang Lee Hulk-style) to the comic book origins of the film. The different aspects approximating different comic panels, perhaps. Loved it, and thought the style Wright brought to the movie was awesome.

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No Luke. I am your father!

I want to rave more about this film, but I feel that to do so would build up the film too greatly for those who haven’t seen it yet. Those of you who may have been put off by the films chewy title, or perhaps put off by the inclusion of Michael Cera in the lead role (I admit, I was one of those), please take the time to reconsider your approach to this film. It’s massive, energetic, like having Red Bull mainlined directly into your brain via a cinematic intravenous – you’ll have to be a stone cold dead wanker to not enjoy this film. In fact, I dare you not to smile at least once through this movie. Scott Pilgrim vs The World is an epochal film from Edgar Wright, one of the best films of 2010 (if not this millennium) and should be essential viewing for everybody. As such, it attains my highest possible recommendation, and the maximum rating achievable here at this site.

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Rodney is the Editor-In-Chief of Fernby Films, and has been appreciating films seriously since 1993. Rodney’s first foray into online reviews was for a now-defunct online Australian DVD store, before starting up fernbyfilms.com when that enterprise fell through, in 2007. Rodney lives in the South Australian city of Adelaide, with his wife and two young children, whom he loves very much.

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  1. I remember when I first read about this little movie in Empire magazine around May last year, and reading the basic premise that he must fight the seven exes to win the heart of the beautiful Ramona Flowers ("I just don't know what it is about her…" – Scott Pilgrim), which each fight varying in style and each increasing in intensity, just like a video game! I saw the cast list and was quietly impressed. Then I saw the director – OMG! I'm a big fan of Edgar Wright, in particular of "Hot Fuzz" (who knew that the English could make an American-style police action film and do it better than the Americans?) and started to salivate over what the possibilities of this film would be.

    But what I had thought was wrong. Way, way wrong. It was EVEN BETTER THAN I HAD ENVISIONED!!! I grinned when I saw the 8-bit Universal Studios intro (more of an ode to the the late 80's and the major influence of Nintendo (SNES!!!)), then hearing Bill Hader as the narrator, I was hooked.

    What really pushed me to the point that I knew that this was one of the best films of the year (actually, I called it the best film of the year) was the first fight sequence between Scott and the first ex. Then it just got better from there.

    My opinion: this film is cinematic crack. One watch and you are hooked. It's pure awesomeness.

  2. i let myself be distracted by my kids, who thought it was too disjointed to get into… i liked it more than they did, for sure, but without the fervor it seems to be gleaning from y'all.

  3. I didn't think much of this movie. I was mildly bored throughout and the fight sequence got redundant after 3rd or 4th dude. I guess the main reason I didn't enjoy nearly as much as you is that I didn't find the characters either interesting or compelling.

    • Awww mannnn. Is it because the characters weren't realistic? I thought the characters in the film were interesting, but it could be argued that they weren't very realistic – perhaps that's the word you're looking for. I thought each fight sequence was good because it was different from the last – each time they came to blows it was different powers, different fighting styles, and different outcomes. Still, if you watch any older asian marital arts flick you'll find a bunch of scenes that tend to blur into each other after the fifth fight sequence, so I guess your point is valid. Thanks for dropping in Castor!

  4. Great review Rodney. You really write it nicely and convincing.

    I like the movie a lot but still not as much as Wright's previous 2 movies. The fighting sequels are very cool and hilarious.

    • I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on this, Dan. Everybody else (aside from Greg, above) seems to have been a lot more ambivalent towards this films winning ways, so I'm interested to know if you feel the same way!