Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

This is not a DVD review. I don’t do those, although I probably should. I wish I was one of those people who watches all the special features on the DVDs. It would make me a better film scholar and filmmaker. But I’m not. Maybe I will be one day.

Anyway.

This is about the three times I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in theaters. I figured now would be a good time to say something, since the DVD did, in fact, come out a little over a week ago. And you should go buy it. It is one of the Five-Rhombi (out of five Rhombi) films of the year.

After being fantastically entertained and dazzled the first time through, I remarked to one of my film buddies that films like this don’t come along very often. He responded, “Yeah man. That Edgar Wright. He really puts a lot of time into his films to get them right.” And I realized that was it. Edgar Wright’s name as director had been my primary motivation for seeing the film in the first place, but even so, I was unprepared for his latest work. Films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz hint at what he’s capable of, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a miracle of a film.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen it by now, go. Go rent or buy the DVD or Blu-ray right now.

If you don’t know anything about the plot, here’s the tiny summary: Scott Pilgrim falls for a girl, but in order to date her, he has to defeat (as in epic battle) each of her Seven Evil Exes. And that’s about it. It’s an astoundingly well-executed mash-up of several significant branches of nerd hipster culture — everything from Nintendo to comic books to indie music to anime to Canada. Yes, Canada, where the story takes place.

Wright also somehow managed to take the standard hipster lexicon (“whatever,” “stuff,” “thingy”) and make it into poetry. But the dialog, as self-aware and steeped in pop-culture as it is, only works because the actors delivering the lines do it with such sincerity. Michael Cera, as it turns out, is an almost perfect icon for this whole culture. He takes all this nonsense in stride, so we do too. Mostly.

Because it’s tough to maintain a suspension of disbelief when the first “Evil Ex” bursts into sparkling dust and coins (yes, actual coins) when he’s defeated — and it’s no small thing that the film somehow makes it seem natural, fitting. Why wouldn’t he burst into coins? And suddenly we’re in a cinematic video game. By the time Scott’s ex-girlfriend complains, “You just headbutted my boyfriend so hard he burst,” we chuckle (“hehe, yeah…”), but then the primary sentiment is, “OK, I can see why she’d be upset about that.”

None of this is making much sense, I know. But in my defense, Edgar Wright did with this film what could be considered the equivalent of inventing a new way to perceive cinema and culture. It’s all shockingly unique, and it takes some getting used to. It’s hard for me to describe why the whole thing works, but it does. Somewhere in the middle of the nonstop barrage of absurdity, I realized I’d bought every detail, wanted everything it had to give, and thrilled at every escalation.

And that’s something that Wright knows a lot about — how to ramp things up so that, by the end, you’ve learned well enough not to try and guess what will happen. He’s a master of the ridiculous and unexpected, and pushes things further than his audience thinks he will, no matter how clever they are or how familiar they are with what he’s done before.

And that, ultimately, is what makes him and this film great. There is no box. No real formula. The script is efficient and solid, everything is set up and paid off nicely, but there’s no laziness. The whole thing sings with exuberant innovation. It’s like the filmmakers set out to find the most awesome possible thing about every cultural artifact on which they based their story, and then set about mixing them all together in the most awesome possible way.

The first time I saw this film, I was essentially speechless. I loved it. I could tell people so, but it was dang hard to come up with anything else to say. When I saw it again, I think I was tired. There weren’t any surprises, and so it felt like some of the magic had gone, but I still enjoyed it. The third time, I had an epiphany: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World might be one of the most awesome movies ever made.

But, you know, whatever.

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