MOVIE REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

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Many movies over the years have been adapted from comic books, graphic novels, and video games, but very few of those movies have ever successfully captured "the look" of their source material.  Things get tricky when filmmakers try to take something drawn on a page or designed on a screen with graphics and turn it into a flesh-and-blood character.  Some aspects just don't work cinematically and can't be matched for the comic.  Those aspects fall into two categories.

The physical challenges are first.  No actor is going to have anatomically correct, rippling muscles without a latex or rubber suit that achieves the look for him (take just about every Batman suit), let alone a costume that isn't brightly colored spandex (Spider-Man worked, but Kick-Ass demonstrates the real-life silliness well).  Most go the leather route (Daredevil, X-Men) to mixed results.  No wonder why the upcoming Green Lantern movie is going CGI with its hero's costume, much like Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan.

The movement and look of artistic, panel-to-panel, storytelling is the second challenge for comic book and video game movies.  That visual style is as prominent as the physical characteristics and also hard to pull off on a movie screen.  You either get PowerPoint-simple George Lucas Star Wars screen wipes or split-screen (Ang Lee's Hulk) transitions that look like a bad episode of 24. Anything else is just trying not to come off like a "BAM!" or "CRACK!" stolen from the 1960's Batman TV show.

Now that you know the usual snags, it's completely refreshing to see a movie like Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World go for broke and succeed in trying to create that hard-to-match look.  Mark my words.  You will never see another movie (at least for a long time) that looks and feels like a comic book or a video game come to life better than this one.  The two-minute trailer and TV commercials are just a slice of what's going on.  From the 8-bit graphics and tinny music used to adapt the Universal logo of the opening credits to the endless barrage of visually drawn sound effects going on, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is a cool, catchy, and fun feast for the eyes and ears.

Superbad and Juno's Michael Cera plays our title character as a 20-something Toronto slacker who is getting over a bad breakup.  He crashes with a gay roommate (played very fun by Kierian Culkin, Macauley's little brother who you remember as the bed-wetting Fuller from the Home Alone series) who's trying to get rid of him.  As a bass player for the wannabe garage band Sex Ba-Bomb, Scott starts dating a groupie Asian high schooler, Knives Chau (newcomer Ellen Wong).  Life sucks and our hero has no life. 

Lightning strikes when he meets the color-coiffed Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Live Free or Die Hard), the girl of his geeky video game and indie-rock dreams!  They meet-cute and click on their snowy park walks.  Just when Scott and Ramona start to take their relationship and feelings to the next level, the gauntlet is thrown down.  To date Ramona, Scott has to defeat her "seven evil exes" who have teamed up as a league to control Ramona's love life and defeat Scott.

Oh, what a task it is!  There's her grade school crush (Satya Bhabha), a pair of twins, and even her bisexual experimenting (Mae Whitman, a long way from the little daughter of Hope Floats and Independance Day).  With each victory, the foes get harder while Scott "levels up."  He takes on one his idols, a pro-skateboarder turned action film star (The Fantastic Four's Human Torch and upcoming Captain America himself, Chris Evans) and even his own ex's new boyfriend, a vegan-powered fellow bass player (The former Man of Steel himself, Brandon Routh of Superman Returns).  They all add up to G-Man (Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore and Funny People), the very recording industry big-wig Sex Ba-Bomb is trying to win a album deal with.

The "battles" are endlessly fun and not just scripted wire-work moves with Michael Cera's stunt double.  They are all unique from one another and incredibly creative, while peppered with those stylish video game visual and sound effects.  Having comic book film heroes like Evans and Routh take on the very non-superhero Cera are deftly smart casting coups.  Even with all of that going on, the fun Sex Ba-Bomb band music quest and the romantic comedy entanglements get their share of the attention too.

Director and co-writer Edgar Wright has achieved cult classic status with his previous British efforts of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both starring the duo of Simon Pegg (Scotty from the new Star Trek, for you non-cult fans) and the bumbling Nick Frost.  In trying something completely new and different, Wright has another cult classic in the making here with Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.  The movie lives or dies by its over-the-top visual and music style.  You, the audience, will either love the ingenuity and visual flair at work or be driven crazy by its ADHD frenetic randomness.  If you are in the first group, you're in for a blast, but if you fit into the latter group, you might feel lost or pulverized. 

LESSON #1: DATES ARE ACTUALLY INTERVIEWS-- The great Ryan Reynolds in Van Wilder said it best, "dates ARE interviews."  The small-talk, traded texts, uncomfortable coffees, and the feeling-out period of early dating introduces your social resume and credentials to the other interested party.  Those dates also establish your personal strengths and weaknesses.  You learn a lot from first impressions.  Not that we can in real life, but maybe Scott should have called some references on Ramona.  Do you homework, early daters!

LESSON #2: SELF CONFIDENCE AND SELF ESTEEM CAN BE GREAT ENABLERS-- By getting dumped, Scott's self-confidence and self-esteem sunk to a lowly low level.  Not even a Battle of the Bands or a devoted (albeit young) groupie girlfriend brought him a boost.  But once he fell for Ramona, Scott's raised esteem and renewed confidence led him to feel like he could "take on the world" (pun intended) and find power, strength, and talents he never dreamed of.

LESSON #3: SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO GET A LIFE TO HAVE A LIFE-- Just like finding the renewed confidence and self-esteem that enables your new path to success, you also have to make a few life changes along the way to make your goals come true.  You might have to take some time to look out for #1.  Notch a few wins (battle of the bands) in your profession.  Start a new relationship (or two, or seven).  You also might have to conquer some of your old demons (and maybe a few of someone else's demons too).  If all else fails, collect 100 coins and get a 1-UP extra life.  Cha-ching!