Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Jason Schwartzman

Fun, funny and faithful to the comic books on which it is based without being slavish; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an engaging and enjoyable film mixing action, comedy and romance to great effect.

Based on the popular graphic novel series and directed by Edgar Wright of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World comes to cinemas with high expectations from its fan base. The film is a successful adaptation of the graphic novels remaining largely faithful to satisfy the fans of that series whilst not being slavish to every scene and detail like the adaptation of Watchmen which resulted in a film with limited appeal beyond fans of the comic. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a fast, energetic, funny and loveable romantic comedy with enough videogame-inspired action sequences to make the film more satisfying than any videogame adaptation released in cinemas.

Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a 22 year old slacker. Scott has no job, performs in a small band named Sex Bob-Omb and has just started dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wang). His laid back lifestyle undergoes changes however when a girl he sees in his dreams turns out to be real. Persuading the enigmatic Ramona Flowers (Winstead) to go on a date, Scott believes her to be the girls of his dreams but soon finds that, to keep dating Ramona, he must first defeat her seven, evil ex-boyfriends all bent on making Scott’s life hell and with one, named Gideon (Schwartzman) looking to get her back. So Scott must fight for his life, win over the girl of his dreams, help brings his band to success and stardom and deal with the fact that he’s already dating someone. Scott’s life is getting suddenly complicated.

The Scott Pilgrim graphic novels have seen their popularity grow as the series approached its conclusion (the sixth and final volume was released a month prior to the film’s release). Released in a Manga-style format, mixing comedy, action, and romance but with many references to videogames of the 1980s and 90s, the series had broad crossover appeal. So, any film adaptation would have pressure to meet the expectations of the already existing fan base whilst also allowing the film to be accessible to new audiences. Fortunately the series is very accessible anyway and so is the film. Adapted by Edgar Wright, known for the film Shaun of the Dead but also for the cult TV comedy Spaced which also mixed comedy and romance with action and references to old videogames and films, Wright seems a suitable candidate for directing the film and he does so admirably. Condensing the plot of six books into one film, Wright has managed to not only preserve most of the story, but the quick pacing of those books along with Wright’s fast editing style allows the film to be packed with many recognizable characters, scenes, jokes and references from the books that even though there are alterations to the story in places, it still feels faithful yet isn’t hindered by trying to include everything such as what happened with the adaptation of Watchmen. Wright also adds to the film, but unlike the slow-motion fighting of Watchmen or added camp in Kick-Ass, Wright’s additions to the film feel natural as though they always part of the series such as some alterations to some battle scenes (Lucas Lee’s in part, the Twins more significantly) but also lines. The adaptation isn’t perfect, Ramona Flowers’ character arc is not as strong as her comic book counterpart’s and the same applies to the role of Envy Adams but the broad strokes regarding their characters and their development is maintained to the degree that they are served satisfactorily if not ideally.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World features an impressive cast and despite there being many characters to include in the film, each is casted with care so that they are all memorable even if some don’t get screen time equivalent to the time they have in the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Michael Cera certainly impresses as Scott Pilgrim with Cera’s past persona of playing more introverted characters initially making him appear suitable for the role but here Cera tunes his neuroticisms towards Scott’s naivety, his slow-wit and short attention span leaving Cera’s performance surprisingly effective. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gives a good performance as Ramona who, despite not having as much moments to explore her character more deeply to the expense of her sometimes coming over cold, is still able to add enough to hint that the character does have more depth than she wishes to be seen and is still sympathetic thanks to Winstead’s mannerisms and expressions. The Evil Exes are cast by a mixed bunch with some characters like the twins appearing too briefly for their actor’s performances to be memorable while others like Chris Evans as Lucas Lee and Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram are able to steal scenes with their performances. Jason Schwartzman as the final Ex, Gideon relishes the role of the lead villain bringing much smugness and feelings of superiority to the character that he is memorable and a suitable mastermind for events. While all the smaller roles from Scott’s band mates, to his sister, to his own ex-girlfriend are memorable, the last two stand out performances are from Kieran Culkin as Scott’s wisecracking gay roommate who steals many scenes and Ellen Wang as Knives Chau, Scott’s high-schooler girlfriend who is very endearing and whose vulnerability works against Scott’s likeability effectively.

While not quite a perfect adaptation of the graphic novels, Ramona’s character not getting as much development as in the series, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nevertheless is one of the best adaptations yet but remaining fast paced, accessible and fun for new audiences unfamiliar with the source material. Edgar Wright keeps the story largely intact, packs the film with enough characters, scenes and gags to satisfy fans and adds touches of his own that feels natural. The cast are enjoyable and memorable, particularly Culkin, Routh and Ellen Wang and Michael Cera proves to be an enjoyable Scott Pilgrim. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5