Finally. A comedy that's ambitious, funny, and definitely not "coasting." If anything, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World might be working too hard for its laughs by violating every rule in the book: episodic, fast, edited in a deliberately outre style with images crashing into each other, stepping on and crushing dialogue, seamlessly merging, not unlike "The Archers," reality and fantasy. Indeed, you're never sure if what you're seeing is reality, or merely the Red Bull fueled fantasies of its lead character, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, appearing "scruffy," thin and even more chinless than usual) young adult, but in name only. And the movie manages to sustain the breathless pace its entire length, without losing its inventiveness or attitude.
That's something of a surprise as director Edgar Wright's previous films, like Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, outwore their welcomes at the 2/3 mark but kept on going. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World starts out of the gate fast and only lets up at its resolution (appropriately), in a melange of styles and techniques, while also shifting the narrative into over-drive with cartoony and comics graphics touches that invade and overlay photo-reality. Fight Club and Stranger Than Fiction did the same with a formalist style, but "Pilgrim" suffuses it with an energetic slacker zeal, as if these things were appearing off the top of its protagonist's head (which, in the narrative, it probably is). A movie hasn't been this anarchistically fun to watch tearing apart movie-sensibilities since...oh...Fight Club, Moulin Rouge!, or, hell, Citizen Kane.* Film-making rules are bent almost in two, but never break the narrative flow. This is good stuff.**
I've stayed away from reading any reviews (which is my M.O.), but a scan of headlines leads one to think that the film has turned off its "Gamer" audience.
I can see where the argument would come: it's really not about gaming (not in the electronic sense) and whimsically lampoons the culture using its tropes and excesses against it. On a deeper level, however, it manages to take the insular mind-set and short-term rewards and gratification of gaming and place it in context into the real world. And finds it wanting in the course of a life. At the same time, it manages to make the sensibilities of gaming concepts—the nexus-choices of "Continue?," "Adding a life," and "Game Over," and draw parallels to painful life-lessons—real ones—that legitimize the story-line, gaming structure and the very reason for making the movie. Very, very smart.
Now, this is a lot of "deep thought" for a teen-relationship (kinda) movie, and I run the risk of gilding the lily, and worse, building high anticipation which might kill the appreciation for what is there in the theater.*** But, more light-bulbs went off for me in this one, about how to use the craft to tell a story, and, in context, of achieving something more than the instant gratification that permeates our society (and the damage it can create) than anything I've seen in awhile.
It also managed to save, for me, what has been a rather disappointing movie Summer. It's also the kind of high-concept circus act that the director can only pull off once—another movie in this style would lay him open to suggestions that he's a "one-trick pony." But, if he can bring this kind of sensibility to this project, imagine where that mind could go in the future. It makes one anticipate, and excited for, what can happen in the future. As for now, Wright's taken things to a whole new level.
* Okay, lest this be taken out of context ("He's comparing 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' to 'Citizen Kane?'!) and I'm accused of Kael-esque hyperbole, I found the same sense of film-making brio in this one that I've found in the others. I always find this exciting, whoever does it, even if the results are ultimately to a less than satisfying experience. I'm all for pushing the envelope, but the results have to be more than a good-looking envelope. There's got to be a good message inside it, too.
** And, there's another layer—the sound design. This one may be my winner for "Best Use of Sound" for the year, tossing in music and effects in a giddy montage that's constantly inventive and supportive. I've tried to do this sort of stuff in my work—specifically for the old "Bill Nye the Science Guy" show—but, I could only aspire to the level that "Scott Pilgrim" does. Bravo. (Clapclapclap)
*** Notice, please, that I haven't done a plot synopsis, quoted good lines (which there are, a-plenty) or said anything about the movie other than a basic wash-and-rinse of the film-going experience. There are too many surprises, and too fine a resolution, to go about spoiling one's viewing. I want to keep your preconceptions of this movie (which I hope you'll do) as spoiler-free as possible. Go in expecting nothing, and this will be a better film—for you—for it.