Saturday, 5 March 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) - loved the in-jokes and general geekery, but was just a little underwhelmed

Viewing context:
Watched it at home with Tasha. Her not being a big geek like I am, I wondered how she would take it, but she seemed entertained enough.

Directed by Edgar (Shaun of the Dead/Spaced/Hot Fuzz) Wright. His first major outing without the Pegg and Frost duo has done him really well, ratifying his own identity. He obviously knows and loves the source material (comic); all the in-jokes that the comic made chimed with Wright's sensibilities and therefore come out lovingly in the film, rather than being wedged in. Wright worked with Michael Bacall (more widely recognised for his acting than his writing) on the screenplay. The original comic was written by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

What happened:
Geeky 22 year old Scott (Michael Cera) meets a girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Goes out with her despite being too much of a fanny to break up with his adoring 17 year old girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong). Turns out, would you believe, Ramona has 7 evil Exes that are determined to fight Scott to the death.

What I liked:
Round 1, Fight: The fighting scenes were excellent. It is a common gripe of mine - that you will hear frequently - that action films rarely get actual fights looking good. Usually, outside of Hong Kong, Luc Besson seems the only person who can ensure that this is done correctly. Yet this film’s fighting sequences were smooth, convincing (though obviously by this I don't mean realistic), full of inventive spectacle, imaginative, well paced and shot with many points of contact per cut (essential). This is starkly opposed to the usual Hollywood approach of editing, where there is a cut after every punch, kick or head butt which disrupts the flow, loses the sense of danger, diminishes the spectacle and also confuses the geographic placings of all the characters on screen.
In jokes: The film went out of its way to please geeks like me with videogame nods, comic references and general geekery. I believe this was done without being too elitist, cutting off those not 'in' with the jokes, but it is possible that it didn't and therefore alienated other viewers.
Variety: Considering the amount of exes Scott had to get through, the film managed to not repeat itself. Interesting that this is the very dilemma that a videogame of the same sort often has to overcome.
Oddness and fun: Was very enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy.

Not so good:
Michael Cera: He was such a wet plank, that I couldn't really give a shit about any of it. Whether he beat the Exes, got the girl, found his self respect; I didn’t really care. He never seemed like he was Scott Pilgrim, he was just Michael Cera.

The prevalence of self absorbed individualism: Don't be so self absorbed as to think that your problems matter so much more than anyone else's. Ramona has these eccentric evil exes plaguing her because she heartlessly dismissed them, with little regard to how they felt, a matter that Scott is later critical of. Emblematic of a contemporary 21st century geek-masculinity (See Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), Scott is so self absorbed that he doesn't care, or take responsibility for the fact that he did exactly the same to Knives and others in his past.
The internal mental workings of a geek: The videogame aesthetics and plot structure set it intentionally in Scott's head, giving a good impression of how Scott views the world. It really fixes the whole narrative then with a focus on a certain demographic; one that will understand all the in jokes and subtleties (although it may not seem from an outsider, that there are any subtleties to a technique that seems... well, as subtle as a brick). For instance, the final ex (what could be termed as the ‘last boss’) was the only one to display some kind of energy bar, a trope commonly seen in many game types' 'boss battle'. What I am getting at with this point is that whatever the film says about people - being self absorbed, extremely image conscious and just a little vapid - it is saying specifically about said generation/demographic, about my generation/demographic, about me. Despite my natural urge to object, to stand up and say 'hang on a minute, we aren't all as vapid and vacuous as this film may make out!’ But I can't say that, because I thought it was cool; it was quite honest in its depiction. We (again speaking from the film's apparent target demographic) like things that are cool, that are a little superficial, so long as they are done so knowingly and with love and care - with passion. This balance between apathy and passion is symbolised by the bands’ comic eagerness and lack of restraint when offered to sign a record contract with the blatantly evil, soulless emblem of the corporate world; thus, quite happily ‘selling out’ their morals and views. This is reinforced and reiterated in a subsequent scene, where the drummer Kim (Alison Pill) begins the song with the line 'we’re the Sex Bob Oms, we're here to get paid and sell out and stuff'. It could be read that Scott, the protagonist we are to identify with, is set away from this impulse to sell out at the earliest given opportunity, as he refused to take the contract. Then again, he did so for personal (again self-absorbed) reasons that affect him, rather than for any wider moral reason.

Scene of the film:
The first fight at the battle of the bands really kicked off the imaginative action, which kept the film going from there. Up until that point I thought it was struggling to establish the characters.

Performance of the film:
Ellen Wong as Knives was the one that sold herself the most. First as the naive and slightly imbecilic younger girlfriend, to the psycho ex-stalker, to the kickass ninja sidekick. I can't see that she has anything else coming up, but I hope she does at some point; something similarly extreme and genre-tastic.

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