Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, or I Lesbians This Movie

Director: Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead)
Script: Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall (Bookies), based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Starring: Michael Cera (Superbad), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard), Kieran Culkin (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys), Alison Pill (Dan in Real Life), Mark Webber (Good Dick), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death) and Johnny Simmons (Jennifer’s Body)
Run-Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: Friday, August 13th, 2010
Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references

I have been waiting for Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World for ages for two reasons. 1.) Co-writer and director Edgar Wright’s previous two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both sit firmly entrenched in my top ten favorite movies of all time, the former holding the elusive number one spot since I first saw it via a bootleg copy of the British release I’d picked up at a comic book convention several months before the American theatrical release. 2.) The source material, the six-volume series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is one of my favorite creator-owned projects of the last decade. Between this two reasons, I sat there in the theater with rapt anticipation, anxiously counting the minutes to midnight.

I was not disappointed.

The story is simple: Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is in his twenties, lives in Toronto, plays bass in a rock band lovingly named Sex Bob-omb with his friends Stephen Stills (Webber) and Kim Pine (Pill), shares a bed in a matchbox apartment with his ‘supercool gay roommate’ Wallace Wells (Culkin), and dates a seventeen-year-old named Knives Chau (relative newcomer Ellen Wong). Life is pretty simple until he meets the quite literal girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Winstead). He discovers rather quickly that if he wants to date Ramona, he’ll have to go through her seven evil exes, a challenge he accepts with eventual gusto.

What really made this film shine as a comic book movie was the simple fact that, despite how it often strays from the source material (Evil Ex fights four through seven are almost entirely different from the fights in the books), Wright and company captured the tone of the books and said tone shines throughout. Sure, I was disappointed that Scott didn’t fight any robots, but the rock-off that takes its place is a fairly worthy substitution.

Even though the latter portion of the movie is so much different, so much of the movie as a whole is right on target, especially costume design. Even from the first trailer, I was delighted to see such attention to detail in the characters’ wardrobe, especially Scott’s 4½ shirt (supernerds like me would recognize this as the shirt Franklin Richards, son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, wore way back when) and Sex Bob-omb’s outfits in their performance during the movie’s climax.

Costume design goes a long way, but what really makes or breaks a comic book movie is the casting. A lot of people give Michael Cera grief for playing the same awkward teen role in every film, but he managed to capture the slightly dim-witted, periodically unlikeable protagonist’s personality to the letter. The previously mentioned bandmates and roommate all look and feel like they were ripped out of the book (though I pictured Stephen Stills having a much deeper, sarcasm-laden voice), but the real casting achievement are the League of Evil Exes. Practical nobody Satya Bhabha, who plays Ramona’s “first…evil…ex” Matthew Patel, blew my mind when he burst into a Bollywood song during his battle with Scott. Chris Evans, who plays skateboarder-turned-actor Lucas Lee captured his character’s cockiness superbly and treated the audience to a brief but hilarious look into Lucas’s acting career. Brandon Routh’s portrayal of douchey vegan rock star Todd Ingram may well be his greatest performance to date, and made the second-most substantial Evil Ex-perience of the movie a joy to watch. Mae Whitman (Parenthood) played Ramona’s fourth Evil Ex, ‘bi-furious’ ninja bitch Roxy Richter so well that it was depressing how little screen time she got. Real-life Japanese twins Keita Saitou and Shota Saito (Feel the Wind) play fictional twins, as well as Evil Exes 5 and 6, Kyle Katayanagi and Ken Katayanagi in another unfortunately diminutive portion of the movie. And last but not least, Jason Schwartzman plays the League’s evil mastermind, Gideon Graves. His performance was terrifically smug and while it was substantially different from his role in the final volume of the graphic novels (as it had not yet been finished when the script was written), it was executed with Schwartzman’s expert precision. Other roles to look forward to include Brie Larson (United States of Tara) as music sensation Envy Adams, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) as Stephen Stills’ on-again, off-again girlfriend Julie Powers, Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) as Scott’s wise-beyond-her-years young sister Stacey, and Thomas Jane (Hung) in an uncredited but fantastic cameo.

The music was another piece of a very well-oiled machine. With all new songs by Beck (he wrote all the songs for Sex Bob-omb), a pitch-perfect score by Nigel Godrich, and a handful of bands ranging from the Rolling Stones to Plumtree, the band who’s song Scott Pilgrim inspired the graphic novels, there’s a lot there to love.

As I mentioned, they changed a lot of stuff from the books for the movie, but it’s completely understandable. They had 112 minutes to tell a story that spans six 200+-page graphic novels. While I was sad to miss out on Scott’s life-or-death battle with Knives’ father and miss out on the subplot focusing on Envy and Todd’s relationship, I was so blown away by how well they captured the spirit of the books, what was missing or different didn’t keep me from absolutely loving this movie. The battles were all unique and well-crafted spectacles, culminating in a frantic, action-packed, nail-biter of a finale against Gideon. Flashbacks are told in cartoons emulating O’Malley’s art. The caption boxes that pop up throughout the movie, the visible sound effects, and the many, many video game influences all came straight from the graphic novels onto the silver screen, and the end result was a love letter to the source material.

Many fans will focus on what’s missing. They shouldn’t. Edgar Wright took a unique story and made it his own while staying true to it at the same time. Michael Cera led a talented and incredibly entertaining cast through a brilliantly scripted, visually spectacular film. I waited a long time for this movie, and damn it, it was so worth it.

Score: 9/10.

Fun Fact: Over the course of the movie, we get to see Michael Cera beat up Superman (Routh), Captain America (Evans) and his girlfriend from Arrested Development (Mae Whitman).

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