Scott Pilgrim should come with a disclaimer: If you’ve never played a videogame, leave now. So unashamedly does it flaunt its geek-centric credentials that it runs the risk of alienating anyone without a phD in all things Mario. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate; even the most uninformed viewer should have something good to say come the post-film discussion. Still if you’ve never heard of a 1-Up before, you’re going to struggle. Yet rather than detract from the overall experience, this limited appeal is actually its greatest asset.
From the moment the Universal logo bursts onto the screen in retro, 16-bit graphics, Scott Pilgrim makes its intentions blatantly clear. Although the first five minutes convinced me this would be a film I would love to hate, I simply couldn’t resist its charm. This is not merely a bunch of Hollywood fakers cashing in on a geek chic trend but a cast and crew fully in-tune with the material. And it shows. Whether it’s a dream sequence set to a Legend of Zelda score or a one-liner greeted with canned laughter, this is a film dripping with post-modern charm, which is of course thanks almost entirely to director Edgar Wright.
As Hot Fuzz (2007) (and to a lesser extent) Shaun of the Dead (2004) proved, Wright is a man who does not like to mess about. He finds the centre of a scene almost instantly, throws up a plot point and then moves on. Camera shots are sharp, levelled and deceptively simple while his rapid editing technique is virtually unmatched. Some may bemoan his methods for placing style above substance, which is arguably true, but substance implies emotional content, which clearly isn’t this film’s intention. This is all about style and in that sense, Scott is a success. The sheer speed at which Wright traverses the narrative plain is phenomenal, throwing onto the screen as many graphics and subtitles as the budget allows. In fact a director hasn’t been this chaotic since David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) which by comparison looks like an elderly, less energetic brother. However, it’s in the Street Fighter-inspired battles that Wright really proves his mettle. Cartoony whilst maintaining a sense of peril, he manages that rarity of making the action a memorable spectacle instead of sheer filler.
It’s difficult to translate quite how much fun there is to be had here. In fact, it’s so much fun that it becomes almost excessive. The tempo remains the same, but by the third act it starts to burn itself out. The finale in which the game references go into overload threatens to tip the whole affair into the world of Scrubs’ smug self-confidence, but the infectious humour wins through. Actually, you’re likely to be laughing so often that you’ll forgive Michael Cera for once again rolling out his Arrested Development persona which hasn’t been appealing since Superbad (2007). Mary Elizabeth Winstead avoids the kooky outcast persona of say, Juno (2007), but she’s neglected by a script that cares more about comedy than romance. Very little time is spent building a rapport between the two lovebirds and by journey’s end you may question what exactly they were fighting for.
As plots go, Scott Pilgrim is hardly the most taxing; once the premise is established, the script takes a backseat to a series of fights with the only aim to be really, really, good looking. But this isn’t so much about storytelling as having fun whilst doing it. As long as you remember that, you’ll have a blast.
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