Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for CaryCitizen.  To read the full review, click here.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the best video game movie since Crank: High Voltage, and far less likely to offend.  Not since that over-the-top and satirical look at pop-culture morality has a film so successfully captured the spirit and tone of something you might pop into your Playstation or Xbox.

Now, before you start sending in letters complaining that Scott Pilgrim is based on a graphic novel and Crank is an original property, I should clarify: by “video game movie” I don’t mean video game adaptation.  After all, there has yet to be a truly good film adapted from a video game. Despite Hollywood’s desperate attempts to turn every successful property, including games, into profitable film franchises, the sad fact of the matter is that adaptations are hard to do properly, and what works well for a video game won’t necessarily (and usually doesn’t) work in a feature film.  Scott Pilgrim, however, may as well have been adapted from one, because never before have the over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek “rules” of video games been recreated on the big screen so accurately.  It opens with an 8-bit Universal logo and from then on it’s perfectly clear: this is not a film set in the real world, but in some sort of parallel universe in which video game sensibilities have overtaken real-world physics and anything – yes, anything - is possible.

Our hero is Scott Pilgram (Michael Cera), an unemployed 22-year-old who finds solace for a broken heart in the adoring arms of Knives Chau (Ellen Wong in a brilliant debut performance), a high school girl who can’t get enough of him and his rock band.  Things get complicated when he falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a rollerblading delivery girl who isn’t impressed by his charms, or lack thereof.  After she reluctantly goes on a few dates with him, he realizes that he’ll literally be forced to fight through her emotional baggage by battling her seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Director Edgar Wright has shown tremendous talent in his past projects, demonstrating a knack for crafting fun action sequences punctuated by spurts of comedy.  However, while Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are admirable genre spoofs, they’re brought down by poor pacing and tonal inconsistencies.  This is, without a doubt, his most accomplished film yet.  With Scott Pilgrim, Wright has channeled all of his stylistic impulses into a tight two-hour foray into madcap video game insanity.  Colors are oversaturated.  Characters explode into arcade tokens.  The supernatural is… well, natural.  From the huge letters that pop up in action scenes ala the original Batman television series, to the sound effects ripped straight from sitcoms and Super Mario Bros., Wright has crafted a uniquely stylized universe that miraculously doesn’t feel overstuffed.  This film aims to do for our eyes what Inception achieved for our brains, prodding the audience to wake up and pay attention lest it miss a quirky reference or sight gag.  Each shot feels meticulously designed, with camera angles and cinematography that could work just as well as an old-school video game cutscene or frames in a graphic novel.  Some viewers may find its quirky barrage of the senses overwhelming; others will feel right at home amidst the hypnotizing visual orgy on display.

Read the rest of the review at CaryCitizen.