Director Edgar Wright plans to team up once more with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, to round out their Cornetto Trilogy with The World’s End (the first two Cornetto films being Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). Until then, Wright has produced a fine comedy action film to whet our appetites.
Adapted from the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim, the film follows Mr. Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22 year old bass player dating 17 year old high schooler Knives Chau. It’s no surprise when he ditches his jailbait companion for Romona Flowers, literally the girl of his dreams. Of course, things can’t be easy for love puppy Pilgrim, and immediately Romana’s seven evil exes challenge him to mortal kombat.
No, it’s not a typo, kombat is what I mean. This film is directing its volleys of comedy and action at the video gaming crowd. Graphics highlight the upper cuts and an offscreen announcer proclaims “KO!” as a foe bursts into a pile of coins. Video game culture is front and center with 1ups and hit point graphics dotting the screen. You’ll see references to Zelda, any side-scrolling fighting game, Sonic, and many more. But this isn’t to say that you have to be a gamer to enjoy the film. The purpose of these references is to get a laugh and it resoundingly works – you’ll just be smirking to yourself if you connect sound effects or music interludes to their respective game sources.
Half of the film’s comedic punch comes from this combination of the virtual and authentic realities; the other half stems from assorted fast-paced editing techniques. Imagine the ludicrous montages from Shaun of the Dead, but longer, funnier, and more varied. Normally I have major complaints about quick editing, but it’s used to great comedic effect.
And when the film isn’t making you laugh your ass off (it will), the fight scenes are a thing to behold. You’ll quickly stop trying to follow when Cera is actually doing his own stunt work, and become engrossed with the dizzying flurry of kicks, blocks, and punches that are all well placed within continuous wide shots. Part of what made The Matrix so fun to watch was to see actors doing their own fight work. Considering Pilgrim cinematographer Bill Pope did The Matrix, it’s easy to see how the fight scenes are almost as much fun*. During these fights you’ll be surprised when you catch yourself rooting for Scott like an overzealous sports fan.
These bombastic fight scenes are well executed with a mix of practical and CGI effects used to accent fight sequences without overwhelming them. One could easily see how a film like this could have turned into an episode of Dragon Ball Z or the final fight in Matrix Revolutions. Instead of going off the rails with ridiculousness, though, fights stay within the film’s reality in a way that really works.
Topping it all off, the music kicks ass and a variety of cast members (Anna Kendrik, Thomas Jane, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans) round out this damn fine picture. My only real complaints are that it drags in the latter third and I look forward to a day when Michael Cera can play someone other than Michael Cera**
Other than these minor setbacks, Edgar Wright delivers another well crafted comedy with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It’s hilarious (Kieran Kulkin as his gay roommate is a major highlight) and has enough great action that it could lend some to The Expendables. Maybe even go see it twice – as long as you’ve seen Inception.
*I know Pope wasn’t the stunt coordinator but I imagine he may have had some input.
**To be fair, he’s less of an awkward turtle in Scott Pilgrim than he was in Juno and Arrested Development – but he’s still the awkward turtle of the film, despite his ass-kicking abilities.