CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: a hip, upscale nightclub, invitation only. There are two bands playing simultaneously, blasting their music at incredible decibels, and the dance floor is jam-packed as lasers and other pyrotechnics ignite the scene. Outside the club, two burly bouncers block the entrance. MICHAEL ARRUDA approaches them.
LEFT BOUNCER: What’s the password?
MA: Swordfish. (MA looks over his shoulder and address the camera) That’s a homage. (pulls out a cigar and impersonates Groucho Marx.)
(The Bouncers step aside and allow MA to enter.)
(L.L. SOARES approaches the Bouncers. He pulls cigar from his mouth and blows smoke in their faces.)
RIGHT BOUNCER (coughing): What’s the password?
LS: Let me in.
(Bouncers step aside and let LS enter.)
(Inside, LS chats with some scantily-clad ladies, then notices MA standing alone on the patio and follows him outside.)
LS: What are you doing out here? The party’s inside.
MA: I know. I’m resisting.
MA: I’m trying to resist the insanity that is Scott Pilgrim. I wanted no part of it. I didn’t want to see this movie, and when it started, I wasn’t into it, but then— I started to like it.
LS: So? Just go with it. Why are you so resistant all the time? Wanna talk about it?
MA: Sure. I’ll start the review.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD begins with 22 year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) playing in a band with his friends and dating a 17 year-old high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He soon meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams, and when she finally agrees to date him, he learns that in order to do so, he has to defeat her seven ex-boyfriends.
MA: Yeah, seven “exes.” They’re not all boyfriends.
With the help of his friends, including his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), Scott takes on this mighty task, while juggling his responsibilities to his band, and the relentless affections of his former girlfriend Knives.
In a movie like SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, the plot is secondary. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. What stands out in this film is the directorial style of director Edgar Wright, who was also at the helm of one my favorite horror comedies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004).
LS: No matter what doubts I had about this movie based on the trailer – they were balanced out by the fact that Edgar Wright made this movie. After SHAUN OF THE DEAD and the equally great HOT FUZZ (2007), this guy has a great track record. So I figured, there was a good chance I was going to like this one.
MA: This film is a visual tour de force. There is so much going on in this movie, visually, that it doesn’t take long for the style to take over and dominate everything that is going on. And it’s not a distraction. It’s not like INCEPTION, where I was scratching my head, wondering what was going on. Here, the storytelling is strong and precise. I knew exactly what was going on, even though the story was told in the most unconventional of ways.
LS: Actually this movie reminded me a bit of ZOMBIELAND (2009). First off, Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera, the leads from both movies, are very similar “types.” Then, there’s the way ZOMBIELAND would flash things on the screen, like you were watching a live-action video game. Except, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD takes this concept and blows it up like an atom bomb. Between the jokes and video game references flashing onscreen, to the fast cutting, to the sound effects and manic visuals, there has never been a movie before quite like SCOTT PILGRIM.
MA: I wasn’t into this movie from the start. I didn’t want to see it, wasn’t really interested in it, and thought I would hate it. When it began, I still wasn’t into it. Sure, it was creative, the jokes lively, and people in the audience were laughing, but I wasn’t. I felt like I didn’t “get it.” There seemed to be an inside joke that I was missing. Why did people like this Scott Pilgrim so much? Why should I care about him and his relationships?
LS: I think Michael Cera can come off as incredibly whiny and wimpy sometimes, like he did in movies like SUPERBAD (2007) (the reason to see that one is for the scenes with McLovin’ and the cops, not the “bromance” of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) and JUNO (also 2007). However, Cera is perfectly cast here as Scott Pilgrim. Physically and personality-wise, he’s just perfect throughout and never seems to stumble. He’s finally won me over as a fan.
MA: Yeah. Like I was saying, I didn’t “get” this movie at first. Then a funny thing happened. I started to like it. About the time Ramona entered the movie, specifically, the scene where they go to her bedroom for the first time, things began to click for me. I started to buy into the movie then, and from then on, everything seemed to work. I was suddenly laughing at the film’s all-over-the place creativity and humor, and it is all over the place. I haven’t seen a movie this creative in years. Going back a long time, I had similar reactions when I watched movies like FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), which, for its time, was very creative, and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI IN THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984), but while that movie was often incoherent, SCOTT PILGRIM is not. The story doesn’t suffer from its off-the-wall super-charged style, and I think that’s what I liked most about it.
LS: I never understood why so many people love FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. I think it’s a mediocre, overrated movie. And, while BUCKAROO BANZAI is interesting, SCOTT PILGRIM blows both of the movies you mentioned away, without even working up a sweat.
MA: Not so fast, buckaroo! While I agree with you that SCOTT PILGRIM is a better movie than BUCKAROO BANZAI, in terms of pure comedy, I gotta go with FERRIS BUELLER. For my money, that remains one of the best comedies around.
LS: You gotta be kidding me.
(Suddenly, a fat, bald NERD with glasses comes out onto the patio)
NERD WITH GLASSES: Aha! Here you are. It is I, Barney Booble, one of the League of Ex-Critics!
LS (rolls his eyes): Uh, oh.
BARNEY: And I am here to get my revenge on you two.
(BARNEY raises his fist and run at them. LS and MA pummel him into unconsciousness with lots of sound effects and “POWs” and “WHACKs” flashing on the screen. When they defeat him, he disintegrates into a hundred coins.)
MA: That was easy.
MA: The League of Ex-Critics? Sounds like the movie. If this plays out the same way, you think we’ve got six more of these guys coming after us?
LS: I hope not. Get back to the review.
MA: But underneath all the wackiness in SCOTT PILGRIM, there’s a strong undercurrent of sincerity. I thought Scott was a very likeable character. He’s someone easy to identify with. He’s the little guy, the nice guy, the “nicest guy I ever dated” Ramona says at one point. I was very happy to root for him. Usually, these characters end up the losers, or if they win, it’s with lots of help. Not so here. Nice guy Scott actually has a kick-ass persona and fights some hilariously wild battles. It’s all so very weird, but it works so well.
LS: It all works perfectly.
MA: And the whole thing with the ex-boyfriends also works because while on the surface it’s silly, having to “battle” seven exes—underneath it all is what most young people go through when they’re dating.
LS: The emotional baggage thing.
MA: Yes, you often have to “battle” the ex’s, and I thought that even though in this movie the battles are right out of a video game, they serve as an allegory for real battles we’ve all had to fight in the wild world of relationships.
The acting is very strong in this movie. By far, my favorite performance belonged to Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace. He stole most of the scenes he was in, and his wry, witty style reminded me of a young Robert Downey Jr.
LS: Oh, totally, Culkin is a scene-stealer, and Wallace is a great character.
MA: I also really enjoyed Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. He’s got the “nice guy” thing nailed. I think a big reason for his success here is he really keeps Scott a sincere character. There really isn’t much unlikable about Scott, and his character doesn’t suffer from this, as he’s not boring at all.
MA: Mary Elizabeth Winstead also delivered a very memorable performance as Ramona. She was just aloof enough to be interesting and attractive, and she never really crossed the line to bitchiness, where you didn’t like her.
LS: I dunno, she almost crosses over into bitchiness a few times. And there were a couple of scenes where I started to wonder why he was going through all these battles for her. But, by the end, I still dug her. And hell, she’s hot.
(A giant laser bolt explodes past them with a blast, burning a bystander in the background to a crisp.)
MA: Very hot.
And Alison Pill, Mark Webber, and Johnny Simmons were also very good as the three members of Scott’s band, as was Ellen Wong as Knives Chau.
LS: Yeah, their band is called Sex Bob-Omb, which is an obvious reference to the San Francisco punk band Flipper (one of my faves), who’s most famous song was “Sex Bomb.”Also, all of the music for their band was written by Beck (and the music by competing band Crash and the Boys was written by the band Broken Social Scene), which is why it sounds so good. In fact, all of the music in this movie sounds good. Which just adds to the adrenaline of it all.
MA: That’s true. The music is excellent.
LS: And Knives Chau is a great character, especially when she tries to compete with Ramona for Scott’s affections later on.
MA: But as I said before, the real story behind SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is the visual style of director Edgar Wright. There is just so much going on in this movie. The pace and visual gags are non-stop, and yet I didn’t feel exhausted or overwhelmed. I felt entertained. It just worked, and on more than one level as well, and that’s because Wright never sacrifices the story for his visuals. You never feel this is being creative just to be creative. No, it’s being creative to tell the story.
LS: The visual style rocks!
(A tall skinny guy with a mustache runs out onto the patio)
GUY WITH MUSTACHE: It is I, Freddy Fleegle, and I am here to destroy you two in the name of the League of Ex-Critics!
LS: Here we go again.
MA: I’ve never even heard of you.
FLEEGLE: Well, you’ll know my name now, when I rip your heart from your chest!
(FLEEGLE shoots lightning bolts at them, and LS and MA retaliate with large red bolts of atomic power. The bolts smash the walls of the club, sending plaster flying everywhere)
MA: This one’s not so easy.
LS: We’ve almost got him.
(LS pulls out an enormous hammer and crushes FLEEGLE’s head to mulch, ending the battle)
MA: He’s still yapping.
LS (hits him again): Not anymore. Oh what fun.
MA: But back to the review. Edgar Wright also wrote the screenplay, along with Michael Bacall, and while the writing is very good, on its own, without all the visual stuff going on, it wouldn’t be the same movie. Sure, the screenplay might have called for all the visual theatrics, but it would have been so easy to overdo it and drown the story in overindulgence. Wright doesn’t do this.
LS: The screenplay is based on a comic book series (what isn’t these days?) by Bryan Lee O’Malley that’s put out by Oni Press.
MA: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a masterpiece of visual style.
LS: Yeah, there’s a lot to like about this movie.
I thought it was funny how most movies based on video games are pretty lame. And yet this movie, based on a comic book and trying to be a living, breathing video game actually worked very well. You know, with something this new and original, there are going to be copycats.
Oh, and don’t forget the other great performances – the evil exes! From Chris Evans (the Human Torch from the FANTASTIC FOUR movies) as a tough guy skateboarder/actor to Brandon Routh (my favorite ex, and also known as Superman in the completely underrated SUPERMAN RETURNS from 2006) to Jason Schwartzman (star of the indie classic RUSHMORE, 1998, among other films) as the leader of the League of Evil Exes, Gideon “G-Man” Graves. Even some of the lesser known actors were good, like Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel (the first ex, with his own demonic Bollywood chorus) and Mae Whitman as Ramona’s one girl ex, Roxy (“It was just a phase,” Ramona says, breaking Roxy’s heart). In fact, they were all pretty formidable foes (except for the Japanese pop star twins, who weren’t developed as characters at all!). Even Scott’s ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson) was pretty cool.
MA: Yes, you gotta love the evil exes. I think my favorite was Jason Schwartzman as Gideon.
LS: Anna Kendrick kind of bugged me, though. I normally like her a lot (she was one of the best things in those awful TWILIGHT movies), but every time they showed her talking on the phone to Scott (she plays his sister, Stacey Pilgrim), she’s supposed to be upset, outraged, and yet the camera lingers on her a little longer than it should, and she smirks, and totally ruins her scenes. This sounds like a minor thing, but it bothered me. I think because these were the only moments in the film that seemed “insincere.”
MA: I didn’t mind Kendrick that much. Still, it’s one weird movie, one I wouldn’t expect horror fans to like. I certainly didn’t expect to like it, but I did, because Wright’s direction is so powerful you can’t help but laugh and enjoy it. Of course, it helps that the humor in this movie is funny.
LS: Why wouldn’t horror fans dig this? It’s a strong, entertaining flick by the guy who directed SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Sure, it’s not horror, but it’s a good movie. Isn’t that enough?
MA: Well, it’s not horror, so I would think that folks who like horror movies might not see any need to see this one. But they should.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a goofy yet highly entertaining movie that will draw you in and make you laugh, and it will win you over. I give it three knives.
LS: I totally agree, and I think I liked it even more than you did. I give it three and a half knives.
(A guy with a mustache and glasses enters the destroyed patio)
GUY: Aha! You think you’re done now, but I’ve come to finish what my flunkies started. I will pulverize you both to dust!
MA: It’s Michael Medved!
MEDVED: Yes, the same. And I find your reviews morally reprehensible. In the name of family values, I have come to crush the life out of you.
MA: But I don’t get it. Why are you calling yourself an ex-critic? Don’t you still review movies?
MEDVED: Yes, but I don’t call myself a film critic anymore. Now I’m a political pundit, or a cultural watchdog. It’s much better than being just a plain old critic.
And now that you know my secret, YOU SHALL DIE!
(MEDVED pulls out a huge knife and hurls it at them. LS and MA jump to the sides, and it misses them. MA pulls out a gigantic fly swatter and squashes MEDVED dead).
MA: Squashed like the bug he was.
LS: You have done the film critic world a great service today, Young Michael.
MA: I know.
LS (looks bored): Oh well, we’re done. Might as well go home.
(MA and LS walk away from a huge pile of rubble, as the nightclub has been reduced to ash and cinders. Hundreds of club-goers flee into the night screaming. The ruins are still hot, and smoke is rising to the sky).
MA: See you next week.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD - 3 KNIVES
L.L. Soares gives SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD - 3 1/2 KNIVES