Friday, November 5, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs The World" (2010)

Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong
Written by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall
Directed by Edgar Wright

Pure fun, from start to finish.

Whatever else I say in this review, that's that sentence that matters.  From the opening shot to the close of the credits, "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" is total, nerdy fun. 

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young man with a broken heart.  He plays bass in a band, Sex Bob-omb, with his friends Stephen (Mark Webber), Kim (Alison Pill) and layabout Young Neil (Johnny Simmons).  Scott has just begun dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but he's still not particularly happy.  A year earlier, his girlfriend Nat (Brie Larson) broke up with him and began dating the bassist of her own band. 

Scott begins to have strange dreams of a girl with purple hair, and one day finds out that she actually exists: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young girl from New York who just moved to Toronto to start a new life after breaking up with her boyfriend, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).  Over the protestations of others, he pursues Ramona while still dating Knives, just as the band might have a shot at getting a record deal in an upcoming Battle of the Bands tournament.

Soon enough, Scott comes face to face with the first of Ramona's Seven Evil Exes, who he must defeat in mortal combat for her love.  Over the course of the next few days, he'll have to do battle with all seven in order to continue dating Ramona.  Other complications will arise with the band, Scott's issues with Knives and his other ex, Nat, who now happens to be dating one of Ramona's exes - a vegan telekinetic named Todd (Brandon Routh). 

That's really all there is to the setup of this movie.  The plot is simplistic, but that doesn't make the film any less of a joy to watch.  Scott's battles with the evil exes are both hilarious and cool.  The fights are fast, brightly colored and kinetic, but shot and edited in a manner that is easy to follow and fun to watch.  People talk about movies seeming like a video game - "Scott Pilgrim" is made that way on purpose, including on-screen graphics and special effects, and even an announcer voice.  They're also just plain kick-ass fights on their own, some of the coolest moves and camera work I've seen in an action movie this year. 

When it's not fighting, the film still moves at a rapid-fire clip, with the jokes flying so fast I'm not sure I even caught them all.  There's lots of the same kind of hilarious word-play and great delivery that made Wright's "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" so enjoyable, a keen humor that's both easy to get into and clever. 

Michael Cera is still pretty much playing that one character he always does... but a bit more.  Scott Pilgrim is nervous and nerdy, but he also knows how to rock... and how to fight.  It seems weird, but Cera is a totally believable ass-kicker.  Whether that's because he throws himself into it or because everything about it seems so absurdly implausible that you just have to roll with that part, too.  Maybe implausible isn't the right word here.  Because while in the real world everything that's happening here is totally ludicrous, in the world of "Scott Pilgrim" it all makes sense and feels totally natural.

The visual effects work is first rate.  The effects are often used to enhance the world and stylize the fights, with punches and kicks taking on all kinds of glows and flares, particles blasting every which way, distorting the backgrounds, etc.  There are also on screen representations of sound effects, which is often used to comedic effect.  It's very hard to describe, but visually it's quite fun and appealing.  You can get a good sense of it by checking out the film's theatrical trailer.

The script is loaded with clever dialogue and fun characters.  The whole premise is pretty intriguing, too - Scott must deal with his and Ramona's baggage from previous relationships before they're ready to get on with their own.  In any old drama or comedy this would be handled in standard, real-world terms.  But in the world of Scott Pilgrim, this baggage takes on the form of villains to be defeated.  Each of the exes comes from a different phase of Ramona's life that she's trying to move on from, which is now coming back to haunt her.  It's a great setup for an action-comedy, and the film plays it for all its worth.   The fights are varied and fun, too.  It could easily have just become a repetitive slugfest under a less talented director, but Wright keeps things fun and changes things up when he needs.

And that just brings me back to where I started: "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" is pure fun, from start to finish.