Sure, Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series isn’t coming until August 13th, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have features about the film itself ahead of time. While we’re not part of the cool kids who saw it at SDCC, the sneak previews around the nation last night did give a few of us the chance to see the film. You’ll see Matt and I talk about it more on Friday as well as Brandon and I discussing it on the next 4 Color News & Brews, but for now, you simply get my take.
So what did I think of the most anticipated comic film of 2010 (at least for me) – did Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World get a rating of awesome like it’s titular hero? Find out after the jump.
I want to preface this review with an important note about myself as a reviewer. As a comic fan, my personal preference for comic movies is an entirely new take on a character/comic rather than a slavish recreation. I like to think of these films as another universe in which these characters exist, quite like All Star Superman is to Supes or Kingdom Come is to most of the DCU. Its a new sandbox for filmmakers to play in, which is why people like Christopher Nolan thrive while the Zack Snyder’s of the world struggle.
With that said, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim is a whole different animal than previous comic movies: its a comic in which so much of its charm exists in its specificity. In the careful exactitudes and moments and comedic beats that he nails throughout the series.
Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) clearly understands this, as throughout this film he nails the important bits that make O’Malley’s series so transcendant in its existence. Kim Pine’s count offs as Sex Bob-omb prepares to launch into “Launchpad McQuack.” The pure hilarity of drunk Wallace’s recreation of Scott’s side of their conversation (“there he is”). The stylistic story bubbles that revealed ratings and the ownership of belongings and things of that sort. Comeau + Crash and the Boys being included. The way Stacey Pilgrim always knows everything immediately (thanks to Wallace). These are the types of things that makes this book so damn amusing to its core, and in kind, make the film so delightful.
In a lot of ways, Wright takes even the comic to a new level with the way he stages fights. Sure, he takes some short cuts in these sequences (no Honest Ed’s as Todd and Scott face off, and no robots much to Brandon’s chagrin), but at the same time, these are places he has to take them. The film is sub two hours. The series is SIX BOOKS LONG. Cutting these fights down to their core not only allows Wright to focus on making them hugely entertaining and kinetic (good lord are these fights energetic), but also allows more time for story and character moments. In particular, I liked the way he spliced together the Todd Ingram fight (and the stunt casting of Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins as the Vegan Police – yes!), losing some of the core elements but still making it work in its own right.
The movie shines as Wright turns this film into a living, breathing video game, having fights culminate with the Smash Bros. “K.O.” ringing through our ears and one-ups being a way of life (literally). It is an uncanny visual accomplishment by Wright, and something that is really an astounding achievement overall (bonus points for incorporating O’Malley’s art into the movie also).
Yet, not everything worked for me. In fact, there were a few things that bothered me greatly.
Namely, I felt that the core women in the story (Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine, Envy Adams) were poorly developed. Sure, their development had to be cut to a degree to make the movie a manageable length, but without their backstory and their fleshed out relationships with Scott, the movie seems weightless at times. Kim Pine was just there often, being sardonic but never really acting as the stabilizing factor she always did in the books. Envy Adams was a bitch, but not a redeemable one really at all. She was just kind of there, and then she wasn’t.Continued below
Ramona was perhaps the most criminal, as not only was she not given a ton to do nor was the relationship between her and Scott really real feeling, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead left me feeling colder than the way she broke up with Scott. To me, in the books it was easy to fall in love with Ramona. She’s mysterious, vivacious, and often brilliant, but in the movie she was mostly lifeless. I found myself wanting more from her as a character, and without her pushing the plot along the end game just felt like…well, a game. At a certain point, it seemed like a freaking awesome version of a fighting game fully realized on the screen.
The book series was so phenomenal because the way it infused the stylistic genius of O’Malley with a tried and true plot strained through years of video gaming and indie rock, as well as infusing it with rich characters that layered true weight into an occasionally fluffy story. Wright got most of it right, but was found lacking by yours truly at times.
I have to give credit where credit is due though, a lot of the cast killed it. Michael Cera…well, there just couldn’t be another Scott Pilgrim. He is the guy, and he was right from the very beginning. Casting Kieran Culkin did two things: truly brought Wallace to life as well as making me even more shocked that Culkin isn’t a star. Brandon Routh, Chris Evans and Jason Schartzman (unsurprisingly) stole the evil exes show in my book, and not just because they are the most famous…they also happened to be the most awesome (Routh in particular killed as Todd Ingram). Allison Pill was Kim Pine on screen, but she really didn’t get a whole lot to do – I would have killed to have more with her.
Wasn’t a huge fan of the casting jobs on Knives and Stephen Stills, but they were satisfactory, just not superb like most of the cast.
The music throughout was superb – I loved the Beck written, Broken Social Scene performed Sex Bob-omb tracks. I really dug The Clash at Demonhead in execution. They really made the music almost a character on its own, and I greatly appreciated how Wright worked throughout to make that such an important factor.
All in all, this movie was more successful than it wasn’t. Was it enjoyable? Yes it was. I found myself to be incredibly pumped by many sequences, and I was enthralled throughout. However, there were things that nagged at me: the aforementioned weightlessness and some scenes (early ones, in particular) that were so aimed at the core audience that they almost felt choked out by the attempts to recreate the comic. It was a very entertaining movie and a damn fine adaptation, not to mention one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen. But it could have been so much more.
I do have to say Brandon and I went with someone who hadn’t read the comics, and unlike the comic heavy group at the theater, he found most of the film to be utterly preposterous. More so than ever, I’m more than a little concerned about SP’s chances at the box office – can a movie like this succeed financially? I have my doubts after seeing it for myself. It’s a movie for the hardcore, and not many more, I fear.
We’ll see if I’m wrong come August 13th.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – Buy (a ticket)