Saturday, November 3, 2012

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Why Haven't You Seen This Movie Yet?

If you were to ask me what my favorite movie of all time was, chances are that I would bring up The Avengers or even Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (my second favorite movie by the way) during the conversation. However, the most immediate answer would be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a true gem from 2010 that worked its way into that slot as soon as the movie ended in the theater. While this was based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, I had not read any of its six issues before that fateful screening, but I did read it after the fact and enjoyed it all the same. For this review though, I'd like to forgo trying to compare this adaptation to the source, since they both go in pretty different directions while covering the same events, and instead look at this movie on its own merits. I'll try as hard I can not to gush, but after two years and multiple viewings, I find it hard not to like anything about this film.

You've heard this story before right, the story of boy meets girl? How about this then: In the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) meets a 17-year-old girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), whom he shares a nice stable relationship with, even letting her attend rehearsals for the band Sex Bob-omb, in which he plays Bass. One night in a dream however, he sees a mysterious girl and begins to obsess over her. He sees her at a library and then later at a party, thanks in part to a vague squiggle being correctly interpreted as an American named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). After learning what her job is, he orders a package for her to deliver, asking her to hang out after she comes to the door. The two of them hit it off and Scott invites Ramona to a battle of the bands performance, where his band will play against Crash and the Boys. While Sex Bob-omb is on stage though, a man named Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) attacks Scott as part of a bigger plot to eliminate him and control Ramona's sex life. Now, as Scott tries to defeat Ramona's seven evil exes, his relationships and his love life will be tested and his past comes back to haunt him.

The execution of this story is one of the reasons why it sits comfortably at the top of my personal list. While the events of the graphic novel are distilled in a way that suits the big screen, it still works incredibly well on its own. As more of Ramona's exes are defeated by way of bursting into coins, Scott and Ramona's pasts are explored at a pace that allows the audience to absorb the information in the best way possible. Nothing feels out of place or shoehorned in and there is certainly no filler; every bit of information and every major character is important in some way. The exposition feels more natural and the characters truly learn from their mistakes and experiences, creating proper character progression and development. By the end I felt satisfied with the story, especially how the ending (which I won't spoil) ties up every loose end and what road Scott decides to travel down next. While the first half hour may make newcomers wonder what makes Scott Pilgrim Scott Pilgrim, the arrival of Matthew Patel is where the movie really shifts gears and cranks the real essence beyond full blast.

This essence consists of both action and humor, which this movie blends together like peanut butter and chocolate. Action scenes featuring the evil exes are very creative, highlighting the individual skills of each villain and exploiting them when possible. While the close quarters combat Scott often engages in has some impressive choreography, the creativity shines through in such instances as the third evil ex, a bassist named Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), engaging in an epic bass battle with Scott while assisted by the psychic powers his vegan diet provides. Then there's the second evil ex, Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), a professional actor and skater with his own label, who fights Scott with incredible physical prowess as well as his stunt doubles. One more highlight would have to be the Ken and Kyle Katayanagi, aka the Katayanagi Twins (Shota and Keita Saito), who engage in another battle of the bands competition against Sex Bob-omb, using music as a weapon between stages to the point where a twin-headed dragon and a yeti made of sound are summoned to duke it out. I could easily go into more detail on what makes each battle so awesome to watch, but to do so would ruin some of the fun of watching them for yourselves. These fights go over-the-top to the point where you just want to yell in excitement and occasionally laugh.

Speaking of laughter, the humor of Scott Pilgrim is one of the very things this movie gets right. It is pitch perfect and timed without a moment of hesitation. There is not a single inappropriate moment, yet it is virtually nonstop even at the end. This movie simply refuses to let up, though what probably helps is how much of the humor is taken straight from the graphic novel (ie. almost all of it). Some of these moments involve Scott's self-centered attitude at the beginning of the film, played for laughs of course, but in this case it's also how everyone reacts to him, particularly his roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). Comments about his past life and how he tries to juggle two girls for a bit are sprinkled throughout and the ways he reacts to both girls are absolutely priceless; in what other movie would you see a 20-something hide by jumping out a window and casually walking away? The behavior of the exes can also be very funny, including Matthew Patel activating his supernatural powers via a Bollywood dance number and numerous moments of the exes questioning exactly how much Scott knows, or remembers, about the League of Evil Exes.

What I like best about the movie however would probably be its unique visual style. Everything is constructed just so in order to have it resemble a living, breathing graphic novel. The looks of the characters and the environments are exactly what it would all look like in real life and takes almost no liberties in that department. Special effects are rendered in a way that styles of comics and video games collide into a world where video game physics are the norm and there is visible pixelation in the appropriate scenarios. Then there's the fact that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has the honor of the only movie in the world to have written sound effects that sometimes have a physical presence. This helps to set up a world that the filmmakers never fail to stay true to. In that case, this could arguably be considered a more accurate adaptation of a comic book than any other comic book movie (if only for that small detail), as well as the greatest video game movie of all time (that isn't based on a video game).

Then there's the music, which is important to both the original source and the movie. It's mostly original stuff, but there isn't a song from there that I wouldn't listen to again. Most of it is available on the soundtrack, which you should be buying right now, with some highlights as any song by Sex Bob-omb and the version of Ramona performed by Beck. Heck, Clash at Demonhead, in the movie at least, even performs a pop song better than any modern artist on the market. The songs and fight music all help make every moment all the more memorable and bring the right amount of emotion or energy to a scene.

But who could forget the characters themselves, specifically the actors who play them? Michael Cera does an excellent job portraying the title character by bringing forth his aloofness and making his character development seem more real. Ellen Wong is cute as Knives Chau and displays her believably, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the perfect choice for Ramona Flowers; I can understand why Scott would want her. Kieran Culkin helps Wallace Wells be as humorous as possible, bringing a lightheartedness to absolutely any scene he's in. He could almost steal the show as Scott's roommate, but is good enough to not take away the spotlight and keep it more focused on our main character. The other supporting characters and the exes are cast perfectly and resemble the characters physically, but in a way that this is what they would look like in real life. Their interactions are given the depth of the actors' talents and every character feels different thanks to their personalities being illustrated to the fullest onscreen.

As a movie on its own, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gives me every reason to want to watch it over and over again. It's awesome, emotional, funny and gives us a world resembling comics and video games. Though it's now more of a cult classic, thanks to initially running against The Expendables, it's a movie that I would recommend to everyone I meet; it just has to be seen to understand why anyone who watches it has a smile on their face. If you have the DVD, be sure to also watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation, an animated short that faithfully adapts part of the graphic novel in its original style which explains why Kim feels cold towards Scott Pilgrim during the movie. If you're curious by now about what Scott Pilgrim is like and have your finger hovering over your mouse to purchase the original source, I would suggest you do so only after viewing this; it's better to go in with no expectations.

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