Friday, August 20, 2010

Film Yap: Who is Scott Pilgrim and Why is He vs. the World?

Last weekend not enough of you saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Before you criticize me from atop your ivory computer chair, I would like to say I skipped the press screening and paid for my midnight showing like the fanboy that I am. Then I paid for another ticket two days later. I’m not saying this to brag. (Okay not entirely). I’m saying this because I loved this movie so much and I’m convinced that this movie and its original books are more accessible than audiences realize.

Scott Pilgrim is based off six graphic novels from Bryan Lee O’Malley. The story is about a Canadian slacker named Scott Pilgrim who becomes infatuated with a new girl named Ramona Flowers. However, before they can start dating Scott has to defeat her seven evil exes. Literally.

Let’s back up. When I started this series, I was never really big into comics. I think before this, I had only read Watchmen. Yet I had heard so many fun things about this, I had to try it out. The first volume was called Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It came out in 2004. It’s hard for me to rank the books because it’s easier to see it as one large book. This is the one, I’ve read the most times. It’s a fun introduction to the universe, which is drenched in pop culture loving. Scott’s world is a mixture between comics and video game logic but still sweet. Characters burst into coins, there are floating extra lives, and giant hammers can that fit in purses.

At the very beginning of the series he is dating a high-schooler named Knives Chau. Knives is the biggest fan of Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb. The other members are Stephen Sills (“Do you always say his full name?” “Who? Stephen Sills?”) and Kim Pine. My favorite character is Scott’s gay roommate Wallace. He owns everything in their apartment including their sole mattress on the floor.

Once Ramona enters the story, the plot picks up. Her League of Evil Exes starts to ruin Scott’s life. Each of the volumes has at least one major fight in it that all moves towards the final confrontation that will determine whether Scott and Ramona even have a chance.

The fights are inventive but the best parts of the series are the characters bouncing off each other. Not literally. The Battle of the Bands in Precious Little Life is such a fun parody of independent music. Also Wallace is drunk so double amusement points.

O’Malley was smart and knew that in order for this relationship to have legs, Scott and Ramona need to be fully dimensional characters. Ramona’s backstory is part of the entire plotline since Scott needs to deal with her baggage through cartoonish violence. At first Ramona is perceived as a “manic pixie dream girl” but as Scott becomes weighs down by the fights the honeymoon period begins to drain. Most romantic tales only cover the flirty part, but the entire series takes place over two years there is a definite feeling on whether or not these two will last.

Finding out more about Scott’s previous break-up is my favorite subplot in the story. This is covered prominently in the third volume, Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness. It is the tale of Envy Adams who ended up being a famous singer and started dating one of Ramona’s exes Todd Ingram. Todd is my favorite ex because he has psychic powers and looks like a character from Dragon Ball Z. (Don’t be ashamed. We all watched it for about two weeks in our youth.) Why does he have psychic powers? Well he’s vegan of course.

I don’t have too many complaints about the series. It’s true that some of the character faces aren’t drawn the best at times. Scott and Ramona have become iconic, but a lot of the secondary characters start to look alike. Thankfully they’re still written very well. I really like the final volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, but just after one reading I couldn’t help think the big epic fight lasted a little bit too long.

After having read these books for a few years, I had very high expectations for the movie. Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors for his work on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. To me, his biggest achievement was his unique vision on the TV show Spaced. Like Scott Pilgrim, Spaced has a world that seems familiar, but uses the characters obsessions to create a new exciting world.

He accomplished the incredible with this movie. He combined all six books into one epic movie that focused on all of the best features of the book. The cast was the perfect counterparts to the characters. Michael Cera gives his best performance as the titular character. The book version of Scott Pilgrim was a bit more youthfully enthusiastic, but Cera’s Scott uses that stupidity in a different form of sincerity. Since the time frame shifts into two weeks, Scott only doesn’t have time to forget about getting into fights. So once the fights start, he is more worried than the book version. Both are very entertaining and realized.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a great job with playing the elusive Ramona Flowers. Although she is idolized, it’s important that she underplays every scenario because she thinks she’s too cool to care. Kieran Culkin perfectly masters the timing of Wallace and his ability to switch from giving great advice and terrible advice. (“Hey Scott. It’s that guy!”)

The second half of the movie is less faithful to the series. This is expected since all the books weren’t out when the movie started filming. The fight with the Katayanagi Twins is very different, but I actually like the movie’s version better.

Even though the movie changes some of the plot points, Wright amazingly keeps O’Malley’s tone and emotional connection in tact. It’s easy to capture the big set pieces of the series, but Wright made the movie work because he focused on the major themes.

Scott is fighting through the emotional turmoil of a new girlfriend, but the movie also focuses on other aspects of modern relationships. The series and film says a lot about the power of break-ups from all perspectives. I knew the film worked because the ending completely paid off. Not only because the final battle was as inventive as the rest of the movie, but because the film earned its moments with Scott, Ramona, Knives, and the rest of the gang.

In Joe’s review, he called this the “Xbox’s ‘Say Anything.’” That is very true, because at the end of the day this is a romantic comedy that can work for both genders. You don’t have to understand all of the nerdy references to enjoy Scott’s quest. The emotional journey, the humor, and the undeniable aura of fun is what makes this set essential viewing.


Cheat Sheet

The Books

1)Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

2)Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

3)Scott Pilgrim’s & the Infinite Sadness

4)Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together

5)Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe

6)Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

The Movie

1)Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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