Warning: Minor Spoiler Alert!
Edgar Wright is back with yet another success! Well, almost…
Not gonna lie, when I saw the preview for "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," I thought it looked like a piece of shit. Not a big deal. A lot of previews look shitty, right? No. This was a big deal because the director, Edgar Wright, is the man behind two of my favorite comedies of the last decade, "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." Unlike his previous commercial and critical successes, he is missing his usual on and off screen counterparts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Another change for Wright is the film's rating. He dropped his familiar "R" rating down to the more commercially viable "PG-13." "Scott Pilgrim" is Wright's first American film, featuring an (almost) all Yankee cast with distribution by Universal. Mr. Wright is moving up in the world. Scary? Maybe. But, this still is not a recipe for disaster. I, for one, am all about giving the underdogs a shot at the big leagues. Hollywood needs less Bruckheimers and more Wrights. Why am I starting this review with all of this industry banter you ask? Because like Universal, I'm scratching my head over why this film is in the google headlines as a "box office bob-omb."
Now the bob-omb part I got figured out. Although Pilgrim is a comic book adaption, it plays out more like a video game on film. There are countless references to the 8-bit era. So many in fact that most will fly over the heads of many 80s babies, let alone the 13 year olds and their moms who've escorted them to the cineplex. Sure, there are your Mortal Kombat "Fatality" and Super Mario 1-UP quips, but there are also villains that barf up and turn into coins as they are destroyed by their enemies. River City Ransom anybody? It's these small and almost uncatchable homages that Wright is so good at sneaking in. In Shaun of the Dead for example, Wright incorporates so many Zombie film homages that a DVD trivia track holds almost as many notes as the subtitled script. This guy knows his shit and isn't afraid to show it.
Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year-old Canadian full-time loser/part-time bass player in the struggling-to-get-a-gig three-piece rock outfit, "Sex Bob-Omb". The trio are prepping for a battle of the bands competition that could land them a deal. As his band hogs up most of his time, he sets aside what little is left to date a 17-year-old high schooler named Knives. His relationship with Knives is moving at a slow pace, though, and his wildest dreams are not of even second or even first base. He thinks fondly of the time they "almost held hands." Just as things are beginning to heat up for Scott and Knives, a pink-haired cutie comes into the picture. While on a date with Knives, he is swept away by this dream girl as she delivers a package to the library. A few days later he makes an ass of himself when he bumps into her at a party. Infatuated with this mysterious package deliverer, he begins asking around. This is when Cera's innate geekyness shines and the quirky humor of the film picks up. Michael Cera's performance comes to life with exaggerated facial gestures and awkward behavior, and he thrives without the dick jokes he's usually stuck with. Pilgrim also has a running gag of bleeping out the F-bombs by one of the movie's supporting characters. The joke works the first few times, but after 20 some odd censors, I started to wonder if perhaps Wright was going for his usual "R" and the suits had something else in mind. If this was really the case, perhaps the studio was a little short sighted. After all, one of this year's most financially successful comic adaption's was Kick-Ass which toted a hard "R" rating. Hmmm.
As the story continues, Scott learns that his newly discovered love interest goes by Ramona and has recently moved to Toronto after an ugly breakup. He also is told that she works for Amazon as a package deliverer. Scott orders a package and eagerly awaits its arrival. When the pink-haired princess arrives with package in hand and is simply looking for an autograph, Scott manages to strike up a conversation so annoying that Ramona surrenders to a date just so she can get the hell out of there. Unbeknownst to Knives, Ramona quickly falls prey to Scott's geeky charm which lands him a spot at second base.
With both of Scott's love interests at hand, he must now compete in the battle of the bands. He nervously dodges any incriminating questions and prepares for his performance. During the Bob-Omb's big shot, the show is suddenly interrupted by a cartoonish young man who's out for blood. As I recognized the character from the preview, I had my suspicions that this is where the film would fall apart. Even though the acting is too much even for a comic book, it's not bad enough to ruin the fun. In fact, the character sets the tone for the ridiculousness that we're about to get into. He announces himself as one of Ramona's "seven evil exes." When a confused Scott is attacked, he manages to defend himself with his seemingly unknown and unexplained Kung-fu ability. After destroying the evil boyfriend and escaping with Ramona, she explains that, if they're going to date, he may have to fight her evil exes--to the death. He seems to be cool with the prospect, though. After all, he is dating his dream girl.
The rest of the story takes us on Scott's journey through juggling two girls, fighting evil, and trying to do what's best for his band. Along the way, new characters are introduced, hair colors change, and we are blessed with loads of quirky humor. Evil exes include a rival bass player performed by one-time Superman, Brandon Routh, and an action film star played by Chris Evans, the soon to be star of Marvel's Captain America film (due next year). How fitting. Ironically enough, the lead villain is played by Jason Schwartzman, a comic actor who plays a better villain than the aforementioned "Superheros." The action sequences in the film are surprisingly good. This is where that Universal budget upped the ante on Wright's previous efforts. Although it's not very convincing to see a buck ten Cera kick the shit out of a Hollywood action star and his team of stunt doubles, the sequences are very well choreographed.
Edgar Wright makes great genre films. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright creates films that pay homage, poke fun, and add something new to genre. With Shaun of the Dead, he made a romantic comedy that also happened to be a Zombie film (or was it the other way around?). With Hot Fuzz we saw the "Buddy cop" genre parodied. This time, he tackles the comic book film. Previously, his timing was impeccable. When Shaun hit theaters, so did the remake of Romero's classic "Dawn of the Dead." Shaun won that fight. Even Romero would tell you that. When Hot Fuzz dropped, it had been a few years since audiences had seen a good buddy-cop movie. Another success. Recently, The Other Guys tried to pick up where Fuzz left off while only providing half the laughs (and the same revenue). With Pilgrim standing at a paltry 21M after its second week out and its sizable 85M budget looming ominously in the clouds, it may be a bit before Wright gets that Universal green light again. It was the first time that I can remember seeing a new release in an empty theatre. Yikes. All good, though. Rumor has it that Wright is getting ready to get back with Pegg and Frost to complete "The Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy he began with Shaun and Fuzz. As for the future of Pilgrim, sequels are out of the question, but I'm willing to bet DVD sales/netflix rentals will be high. I predict a future cult favorite. Perhaps another import will put Wright back on top. In the meantime, get to an empty theatre and enjoy this underappreciated film.
Written By Plain Ole Bill