Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something Something Button Mash

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World [*]

I have to admit upfront that the previews for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World does pretty close to nothing for me. Michael Cera despite his infinite sameness can be charming, Edgar Wright because of his ability to understand our base, simple desires and affections and validate them with excellent motion pictures and a few actors gamely hamming it up could've/should've been the wild cards that make this film better than it looks. It doesn't work. Edgar Wright brings nothing short of his usual visual coherence and crisp editing to the film, but aside from one genuinely satisfying, pulse quickening sequence Wright is powerless despite what he brings to the table.

This might be the first Edgar Wright film to feel paced exactly like an evening with Michael Cera. It doesn't really move so much as mope, the narrative never gains any moment even as the stakes grow and the climax approaches. The film remains so evenly keeled and unenthusiastic. Speaking of which, a bored looking Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays pink haired Ramona Flowers. Scott's unrequited crush/ love interest/ Amazon delivery girl that literally travels through Scott's empty headspace that motivates him. Sure he'll fight for Ramona, but he'll also string along an immensely sweet and more likable seventeen year old girl with whom he is in a sexless non-relationship. But Scott only fights to be with Ramona (read: in Ramona), his struggles don't actually include any self improvement, at least, not in the way the film leads you to believe there will be.

So then comes a series of less than exciting battles against exes that employs the usual video game tropes of sixty-four hit combos, extra lives and people exploding into coins. Although to be fair, the one truly inspired set-piece involves Scott being "controlled" (gotta love the wordplay) by Ramona when he expresses his reluctance to fight her ex-girlfriend because, well, he doesn't hit girls. It's the only moment in which Scott displays a genuine awareness and concern for anyone not himself. I'm also a sucker for the other person as weapon and an inversion of the chivalrous idea of a man not hitting a woman and child (at the insistence of another woman of course).

The arched eyebrows and over enunciation of Chris Evans as action star Lucas Lee culminate in the movie's biggest missed opportunity and anti-climax (he rail grinds to his own doom) while Brandon Routh's super powered Vegan sub-plot offers up a delightful pair of cameos, but all inspiration remains but a blip on the map of Scott Pilgrim's world.

I've begun to consider the possibility, as I write this review, that the Scott Pilgrim source material is not meant to be affectionate in any way, I don't know how or why you pick video game loving, garage band hipster geeks as your target of derision(comic book lovers and film lovers, too, if we're considering all mediums the story is presented in). According to the IMDb page it is sometimes referred to as Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life which I have to take as derogatory. It says to me poor Scott Pilgrim, sharing a house and bed with his gay roomie, has a seventeen-year-old girl fawning all over him, is in a band called "Sex Bob-Omb" (also deeply sarcastic) and no means of visible income or support, man life is rough for this poor sap. I think the reason Scott's sister is always yelling at him is because he's a bum that life always seems to work out for and he's only motivated to fight for someone's vagina meanwhile she's ALWAYS working. I also think after the excellence of Up In The Air, Anna Kendrick is not so secretly frustrated with going back to being that one girl with a small part in a bad movie played by a one note actor.

I also can't help but wonder if Edgar Wright's participation is some sort of a warning that he's done with the clever/affectionate geek out shit. I know he has respect for genre films, video games (as evidenced by his UK series Spaced) and comic books and that he approached the film with the utmost professionalism, but it has also been eleven years since Spaced and from what I can tell everybody in all of Wright's other work may have had arrested development and simple pleasures but they were adults with jobs who tried so they deserved a little bit of a fantastical respite when life got too much for them to bear. Scott Pilgrim is five years out of high school, unemployed and sees life through the prism of a video game which puts him well within the realm of needing to grow the hell up.

As someone who is probably in the minority in disliking this film I'd like to point out something to its champions: the film's Universal logo is down in the 8-bit graphic style smacking anybody with an affection for video games square in the nostalgia bone. But I believe it betrays the integrity of that love by having Scott initially lose to the final boss and before activiating his extra life for a do-over all of Scott's mistakes are explicitly spelled out and he is told what lessons he needs to learn. Part of the sense of accomplishment, appeal and fun of those games was the earned ending. We made our own mistakes, figured them out for ourselves and corrected them. What happens to Scott Pilgrim is tantamount to having a cheat code for life and, maybe even, the simplest and most undemanding existence of all.

What I'm saying in the most explicit way possible is that you have all been mocked. Anybody who has dared to take an interest in the story no matter the medium has been mocked. If you don't believe you're being made fun of then understand that you are at least encouraging the most dishonest movie of the year to spread more poison.

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