Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
d. Edgar Wright / 2010 / USA / 112 mins
@ Cinema 5 – Cineworld Trocodero (London, UK)
I have to say I’m intrigued as to how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World became something of a maligned film in such a short amount of time. It started, I assume, with a minor backlash in the wake of a long, rabid build-up of trailers and teasers, and progressed via middling reviews and a growing dislike for Michael Cera to a surprisingly poor box office performance and the subsequent squirms from legions of put-upon nerds.
I, for one, greatly enjoyed the film, and I’m not about to write a long piece on why I think it failed to capture the popular imagination in the USA (largely because it’s already been covered by Cinema Blend’s theories about its box office bob-omb’ and Forbes’ assessment of its DVD afterlife), but rather than give a standard review, I want to consider why I think it will be considered something of a minor cult landmark in years to come and seems certain to influence scores of future filmmakers.
For starters, I particularly like the way Scott Pilgrim vs. The World plays with film language and popular culture. Drawing heavily from the metalanguage of modern comedy, Edgar Wright has repeatedly stated that when he first read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, it reminded him a lot of Spaced (1999-2001), a sitcom written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes on which Wright served as director.
Indeed, this film tends to draw quite heavily upon a sensibility that runs through a lot of British comedy, a sensibility that suggests that it is the audience that must keep up, and that if they don’t get every single little reference, too bad. It’s a mix of intellectual, highly-literate comedy with sheer surreal silliness that was popularised by the Monty Python gang (their Philosophers’ World Cup being a perfect example), and it’s a tradition that continues to this day in shows like The IT Crowd. The fact that Wright managed to impose such relentless intertextuality on this film, without really having to pause for explanation, truly is something to behold.
He seems to be a figure of increasing derision, but I have to say that Michael Cera is great here and I think that history will perhaps treat him kinder than we seem to at the moment. He’s no Bobby Di Nero, sure, but he provides a wonderful comic presence (and has shown as much in a variety of comic modes), and he keeps improving at the serious stuff on every attempt.
Whilst the relentless hijacking of the language of cinema and popular culture sustains Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fairly solidly throughout its relatively lean 112 minutes, there are also a lot of things I don’t like about it (even if I am amongst a minority who consider it superior to that other recent genre-bending comic book adaptation, Kick-Ass). And if I do have a major criticism – at the risk of slipping back into reviewer mode – it is that the fight scenes are little overdone and more than a little overlong. Even the contrivances used to ‘differentiate’ each battle – even the overly righteous vegan guy, and Ramona using Scott to beat up the female ex – left them feeling all a little samey. In fact, considering he did so much of it elsewhere, it might have been nice to see Wright riff a little more on martial arts video games during those fight scenes.
But in spite of its faults – and the fact that it is, essentially, not as great as the sum of its parts – it will continue to find an audience. And whilst some have criticised it precisely because many of the references are a little too obtuse for most audiences, it is precisely this embrace of popular culture (and metaculture) that will ensure this film an audience for generations to come.
Then again, prospective futures for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World aside, if Beck and Brian Le Barton fail to receive some sort of recognition for their excellent, excellent music come awards time, someone, somewhere will need a very stern talking to.