Friday, September 3, 2010

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – A hidden gold coin.

I’ve never been happier to be proven so wrong. When I saw the preview for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” my immediate reaction was that it would be crap and the fact that it was based on a graphic novel reinforced that opinion. I have yet to be impressed by a graphic novel-based movie and the previews for Scott Pilgrim weren’t inspiring hope of breaking that string. Just for the record, I don’t consider Batman or X-Men or any other classic superhero comics as graphic novels because they don’t ever get referred to that way. I’ve talked about expectations before and I’ve had numerous arguments with friends who think I set unreasonable expectations prior to heading into the theater. They think I should have no expectations or at least set them so low that I won’t be disappointed. I disagree with them, mainly on the premise that once you’ve seen a preview, it’s impossible not to have expectations. Plus, why should I be forced to lower my expectations when I’m the one paying to see the movie? Hollywood should be raising their standards, or at the very least banning hacks like Robert Rodriguez from being anywhere near a camera.

As I said, the previews did nothing to help sell this movie which is probably why it did not fare well in theaters. The premise alone seemed like something straight out of a second grader’s bowl of alphabet soup. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has to defeat Ramona Flower’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil ex’s in order to date her. On top of this, the fight scenes present Scott fighting the ex’s as if he’s in a video game. The only preview that seemed to promise a dumber movie was “Hot Tub Time Machine” and it turned out not to suck. I had no intentions of seeing Scott Pilgrim until I read a review giving it high praise. Admittedly, I was still prepared to be proven right in my original thought, but I was at least going to give it a chance. About halfway through the film, I consciously realized that I was enjoying it – a lot.

I think I started enjoying the film the moment it started. Before the first scene, the production company’s music is brought to us in eight-bit Atari sound and a woman behind me said “Something is wrong with the music.” I simultaneously smiled and ridiculed the woman in my head…because I don’t talk during movies, damn it. Apparently, this woman had not seen a preview or she would have known that this movie was intended to play out like a video game…or she’s just that dumb. After that, it was all uphill for me.

Everything that happens in the film is set up in the first few minutes of the film. We meet Scott and his band, Sex Bob-omb, his underage girlfriend, Knives Chau, whom they tease him about, his gay roommate, Wallace, and Ramona, who Scott instantly falls for upon seeing her at the library after dreaming about her. Since we already know the plot of the movie, it’s important that they introduce all of the supporting cast and their relationships to Scott, because the characters are what really make this movie great, as they are what really make this film worth watching.

Quick note: for those of you who aren’t as dorky as my wife thinks I am, Bob-omb is the name of the little walking bombs in Super Mario Brothers. She did not know this and teased me about it. I am not ashamed.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is laid out like a live-action video game. In fairness to all film writers, I have to give these writers a massive amount of applause (normally I’m ripping them a new one). A serious amount of creativity and attention to detail went into this film and it holds constant throughout the movie. It’s so refreshing to find a few who care enough to finish what they started without mailing in the last half of the movie. Just like a video game, the film has levels occupied by a different evil-ex (or boss if you will). Scott must defeat each one of them before he can confront the next and in a fantastic spurt of creativity, when he defeats them they burst into a pile of coins, each one bigger than the last. Also like a video game, each evil-ex is more difficult to defeat than the last. What’s even better is that each battle is different than all the rest. One is mano-e-mano, the next is avatars being controlled by them, and others. (I don’t want to ruin all of them for you). This was particularly brilliant because it keeps the audience engaged by not boring them with the same thing seven times. In addition to all of this, there were creative nostalgic subtleties, like the coins and band name, plus things like the number of each ex hidden throughout the corresponding scene, power meters, and extra lives. This was literally the movie that every person my age wanted to be in when we were kids.

Given all of the attention paid to those things, it’s impressive that they did not slack off on any of the characters. What’s more is the actors seemed to know this and did everything they could to make their character as good as possible. It would take me several more pages to go in to each one in depth (so I won’t), but arguably the best performance was turned in by Kieran Culkin as Wallace. Yes, we are talking about one of the less famous Culkins, but definitely more talented. His character’s main purpose was comic relief and he did not disappoint. One of the best decisions by the writers was to make the fight scenes visible to everyone, meaning that Wallace, the bandmates, everyone could see them flying around, throwing punches, even the first ex’s demon hipster chicks and fireballs. Every time a fight broke out, Wallace was there to make jokes while cheering Scott on and stealing Scott’s sister’s boyfriend. And these weren’t even Wallace’s funniest scenes.

By the end of the film, I was completely elated with how good it was and my first thought was that my wife had to see this movie. She’s not a gamer and movies like this typically just give her a headache, but being a film major – and a member of the original-Nintendo-playing generation – I knew this was one she could appreciate. The best way to sum up this film is that it comes off like an independent film with popcorn movie appeal. I can finally say that there is one good graphic novel-based film even if certain ladies who talk during movies don’t get it.

Rating: You paid way too little to see this film. Go see it again (I did) and maybe even again.

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