Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is where the “alternative” part of Vada’s version of the Cornetto Trilogy takes effect, replacing the upcoming World’s End with Wright’s third proper film. Scott Pilgrim fits in with last week’s Hot Fuzz and particularly Shaun of the Dead more than you might believe, although admittedly there are a number of differences in the setup. Not only is it an Atlantic adjustment insofar as it being a North American production rather than a small British feature for one, it’s also a comic-book adaptation rather than an original script. Thirdly the casting is a whole new world for Edgar Wright.
There’s no Pegg as frontman, writer and collaborator, and neither is Frost by his side, nor is the expected ensemble of well-known British extras in support anywhere to be seen. Instead Michael Cera as Scott performs alongside a comedy cast of unconventionals including Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin (brother of McCaulay), Parks & Rec star Aubrey Plaza and failed ex-Superman Brandon Routh. The biggest compliment to these guys and to the direction is that the comic timing and comedic tone is consistent throughout and the humour is no less obvious or constant than Wright’s previous films.
Not only is the acting just right, but so are the characters. This gives Wright an opportunity to evolve from his days working on Shaun and Fuzz. The former was primarily concerned with the contest between two relationships – an average Joe and the struggle between his best friend/girlfriend – with Hot Fuzz moving into the realms of buddy cop comedy with a centralised duo as the focus, but with a larger and broader supporting cast. Scott Pilgrim is different in the sense that Scott moves around the characters as our narrator and our vehicle as well as being the protagonist, and his on-screen time is not spent with any one individual more than the rest.
Despite expectations and afterthoughts that it’s surely he and Ramona who are the lead duo, in fact it’s just Scott himself. In reality he spends many scenes – much of the film in fact – without her. This involves interaction with his band, or with Knives, or with his roommate. All of these plus contrasting dynamics with his sister, the seven evil exes and of course Ramona too provide a number of interesting insights and alternative viewpoints, and that’s when he’s not wandering off into his own dreamlike state to spend some time simply with his own thoughts – an interesting tangent for Wright.
There are of course similarities between his previous work and Scott, as well as these new avenues and approaches. For instance, the cutting-comedy – quite literally in the sense that there are many jokes and the style involves a lot of quick cuts and a fast pace – is still at the forefront of the presentation of his work. This is accompanied by the cultural references we’ve come to expect, although they aren’t as broad as Shaun or film-specific as Fuzz, instead focusing on the geeky satisfaction and satisfaction of geeks that can only come in the form of computer game nods.
Only Wreck-It Ralph can really compare in recent times with this specific video game structure and would provide a great companion piece to Scott Pilgrim. Both are in homage to computer games and the nostalgia of them rather than straight adaptations of any particular one game which have notoriously failed in the past: Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Max Payne, Tekken… the list goes on and on. Perhaps the higher-profile of Duncan Jones’ upcoming World of Warcraft adaptation or the Michael Fassbender-produced Assassin’s Creed will stem the tide, but for now we at least have Scott Pilgrim.
Within Pilgrim, though, this faithfulness to video games and also comic books (where it is a direct adaptation) comes through largely because of the visuals. This heightened sense of playfulness also sees Wright go further into the fantasy genre and even explores his first use of CGI in the fifth-and-sixth boss battles. Not only is Wright able to deliver laugh-out-loud visual jokes – a feat matched by few others – but these visual moments give the film an edge. The little touches – e.g. marks emphasising the vibrations when guitars are used, or the pee-bar, or the coins – both compliment the style and story as well as giving it a proper gaming feel and not forgetting it. As stated in my Hot Fuzz review, Edgar Wright always follows through on his promises and makes brave new worlds out of his character setups.
From zombies to country thrillers and now arriving at computer games brought to life in Scott Pilgrim, Wright then explores this world with real verve and bravado. The “CONTINUE?” countdown and ‘getting an extra life’ scenes are both good examples, as they stand alone as gaming references but are also used to further the plot in an imaginative and original way. Ultimately Scott is similar to Shaun in many ways that extends beyond a five-letter name beginning with ‘S’. The arc of the plot is the desire to win over a dream girl by going on the most unimaginable adventure and overcoming the past – a heavy theme of both films. Scott Pilgrim also has the hidden depths of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (#5 in the list on that link) and leaves us in anticipating the hilariously drunken apocalypse that is sure to be found in The World’s End.