SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Hip music, obscure comic-book and computer-game references, likeable characters, daft sitcom-style humour and frenetic cutting and visuals... Any fan of the TV series SPACED would recognise this list as the memorable elements that made Edgar Wright’s first exposure to the public a winning formula, and their use in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD makes this summer’s latest comic book adaptation an ideal subject for Wright to adapt; and also the most enjoyable film of the year so far.
I’m a recent and very late adopter of the graphic novel series, as Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga meets American indie style artwork initially put me off, but I found myself enthralled by the end of the first volume; so, I’m happy to report that the first part of the film is a very faithful adaptation of the first volume of the series (SCOTT PILGRIM’S PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE) before having to considerably condense the rest of the series and rearrange some scenes for the necessities of feature film adaptation. This does mean the second half of the film is devoted a little too much to fight scenes rather than anything else, but the increasing momentum and hyperkinetic visuals mimic the increasing difficulty levels and frenetic activity you might expect from playing a variety of video games, a genre that the film adapts with greater aplomb than any other film before it. It’s ironic that a comic about someone who loves computer games has led to a film that represents games on screen with rather far more excitement and knowledge of the genre than any of the workmanlike adaptations of actual games that have preceded this film, and this is probably due to Wright’s verisimilitude as a director of ‘geek’ interests compared to the hacks that have churned out the likes of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER and MORTAL COMBAT.
Elsewhere I’ve described this month’s other high concept release –THE EXPENDABLES – as tedious, risible drivel (which in hindsight was me probably being too kind to the film) and apart from the complete lack of imagination throughout that movie, the other thing that ruined it was endless fight scenes that looked like someone playing a bad computer game, with no consequences for anyone involved. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is the flipside of that, as this is a film completely suffused with imagination, with more ideas packed into every scene than you get in entire movies, such as the aforementioned Stallone turkey. This means that many viewers might not even get every reference used on screen and in the soundtrack, but it makes for a deeply immersive world that is not only ultra hip but also endearingly retro and nostalgic, conjuring up a mid 00s world that is more timeless than something set specifically in 2010, by using computer game technology and references that cover a period from about 1985-2005, as opposed to other recent films that are just nostalgic about the 1980s, without adding anything new. Regarding the fight scenes, although I thought they slightly overstayed their welcome in SCOTT PILGRIM, they actually do progress the plot and allow the characters to develop and learn things about themselves.
I went to see the film with a friend, who’s a cartoonist and bigger fan of O’Malley’s comics than I, and he made the very astute point that the video game inspired fights were similar to the song and dance scenes in musicals (notwithstanding the first fight in SCOTT PILGRIM actual is also a musical number, perhaps to make that very point) where these scenes are of heightened emotions and if used well, such as in the BUFFY musical, also sources of character development. BUFFY in general is a good comparison to SCOTT PILGRIM as the fantasy elements in both can be seen as a way of portraying teenage and twenty-something angst in a style that makes the story telling (for genre fans, at least) far more interesting than a traditional ‘rom-com’ or ‘click flick’.
Unconsciously or not (as, like I said at the beginning, this is a development of his style from SPACED) Wright has made a groundbreaking film that is, to use an often abused phrase, a game changer. Expect to see knock offs in the years ahead that uncomfortably mix genres, knowing editing tricks and computer game tropes to less dazzling effect than this. The only thing really missing from SCOTT PILGRIM is a cameo by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who would have been ideal to play ‘the vegan police’ (don’t ask), but were presumably too busy making PAUL at the same time. The director is rumoured to be following this film with another that reunites him with his two favourite actors, however the pressure will be on, now that this has set a new gold standard for genre themed comedies.
Directors with more accomplished track records have made equally dazzling films only to find their similar styled follow ups are either ridiculous or disappointing – e.g. Oliver Stone’s attention deficit disorder trilogy: JFK / NATURAL BORN KILLERS / NIXON – and Wright may be torn between his more relaxed style and what’s on offer here. Hopefully this film will deservedly catapult him into the A list of international directors, even if his current competition at the box office is fairly strong – for all the many, many faults of THE EXPENDABLES, it’s aimed at the same geek dollars – this is a film that rewards repeated viewing and is bound to become a cult classic on DVD / Blu-Ray. Unlike recent films such as INCEPTION, SCOTT PILGRIM delivers on and exceeds the promises made by its poster and trailer and is definitely this summer’s first must see movie.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is released in cinemas August 25th and the 6 volume graphic novel set by Bryan Lee O'Malley is available now from Play or in all good book shops or whatever.