Edgar Wright’s freshman entry in the blockbuster world of pow zoom Hollywood America came in roaring and then fizzled out in equal intensity. Co-written with the clearly hilarious Michael Bacall, who demonstrated clear hilarity with 21 and 22 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim retains almost none of the comedy prowess of Wright’s earlier work, whether Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or even the spotty TV show Spaced, but does exemplify better than even the succeeding The World’s End, its director’s otherworldly control over the image.
This film puts Edgar Wright in a visual league with Chan-Wook Park, Bong Joon-Ho, and Wong Kar Wai. Jesus, how his camera moves so carefully across appropriately colored and lit characters and environments, highlighting the important details with the subtlety of Spielberg but adding Leone’s love for still composition.
Now, that might sound high-faluting talk for what is by some accounts the douchiest film ever made, but let’s not discount a comedy, an action movie, or a comic-adaptation. It is from this pedigree that Scott Pilgrim becomes its own unique entity, and while I will defend the Watchmen adaptation, for many of the same reasons, this movie creates a new thing, beyond simply validating its existence.
Part of it is timing, part of it is the intense direction and editing. Without being a riot, without being tragic, Scott Pilgrim is a very emotional film, because it maximizes its technical potential (cinematography by The Matrix’s Bill Pope) to engage the audience — and this is filmmaking power too grand to ignore. And the story is precisely what fantasy film does best, similarly in films like Crank and Running Scared. The screen becomes a vessel for Scott’s mind, it isn’t to be taken as strict reality — impressionistic elements take shape as retro-pop culture artifacts to construct this subjective world certain people ten years older than I can apparently relate to.
It’s a loser’s love story, and so we’re introduced to our resident loser in Scott Pilgrim, who’s as excited about life as everyone involved (the energy in this movie is not say… up), and cheats on underage Knives Chau with the mysterious foreigner, and in the end, learns no lessons, and gets the white girl.
Wait — that sounds like a lot of stuff I detest. This is a story that trades in emotional violence, uses it as a plot device, and not a thematic point of investigation. The ending sees Scott Pilgrim rescue Ramona Flowers from an… abusive (?) boyfriend, and learning that the power of love is… enough to win her back. Knives walks away because of complications in the adaptation of the comic.
I don’t know what kind of story this is really supposed to be. I don’t hate it as much as others, and in fact one criticism I heard was that the emotional violence was even greater, as was the sexism: Ramona becomes the object in Scott and Gideon’s competition. We continue to male-gaze, but singling out this movie, where all romantic-comedies made in America follow the same general storyline, seems vindictive.
Indeed, this movie is bound to piss people off for its sensibilities, and I find that people can express why they hate the movie just as well as I can express why I like it — not at all. This is like Sin City — maybe it’s just ‘nostalgia.’
But then, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh are both unexpected comic geniuses. And Kieran Culkin’s deadpan half-friend/half-asshole marks the rest of the comedy that works. “Really think you can roll with an A-lister, Bro? Some competish you are” is a Bale-Batman-esque delivery I will never forget.
I love any movie that sets up an environment where anything can happen. Scott Pilgrim is at once free-flow and fastened down in story and filmmaking, respectively. But given time, I’ve come to understand that the movie is not ‘complete’ by any stretch. The ending may satisfy the character arc, but what are we meant to take from this? Growing up doesn’t mean overcoming adversity and then having periphery problems (which you put there) resolve themselves on their own. It’s such an important part of the movie, and it’s missing the big aha.
If you happened to skewer yourself on my last site, Dreck Fiction, you’ll see a number of reviews for this film, each becoming more whiningly defensive and peeling back the layers of deniability I had that this film was little more to me than vicarious romantic adventure with an actress I happen to find world-crushingly beautiful. Whether or not that’s an ethical foundation on which to blog ceaselessly, in shifts, and whether or not you should even continue considering my opinion, considering that admission, consider this: there is nothing else like this movie. Nothing even close. If you happen to like it, it’s a movie so well made you’ll like it so much and not even be able to figure out why. It defies your rational mind and appeals completely to a heart that’s been blackened by loneliness.
Indulging in this anti-social fantasy might poison your mind toward further insularity and possibly even sexism. So tread lightly.
Here’s a movie that you can enjoy. Take nothing else from it, not the themes, not the attitude, not the jokes, and especially not the weird attraction to its female lead. Sights and sounds like nothing — and off.