I don’t know that this review is strictly necessary; based on the article about SPvtW‘s lackluster box office on Monday, you all have your own opinions, and I doubt I’ll be able to change anyone’s mind about the movie, or Michael Cera, or its marketing campaign (whether you feel it was lackluster or overabundant). Still, having talked about the movie so damn much on TR, and being so excited about it, I probably owe you something, right?
Okay, short, spoiler-free version: The movie is great — and yet it has some serious flaws. What’s weird is that these flaws don’t detract from the movie’s greatness — in my opinion, at least — but they’re noticeable enough that I can’t gloss past them. I wouldn’t consider Cera one of them, though; I think he does a great job. Overall, I still loved it, and I recommend everyone go see it, if only to see Edgar Wright translate the visual language of comics into film — it’s amazing. But if you want to know the problems (and some spoilers) hit the jump.
I really, really don’t want to talk about Scott Pilgrim‘s box office, because I don’t think anyone, myself included, really knows all the myriad reasons — or at least the proper combination — of why it didn’t catch on. The idea that people don’t “get” the fights, the videogame references, the blindingly fast editing — I guess I can understand that for non-nerds, but anyone who reads Topless Robot should be enthralled with the shit that director Edgar Wright puts on screen. It’s amazing. But I’ll talk more about the positives in a minute; let me start with the problems first.
The film’s biggest flaw is Scott and Ramona’s relationship, specifically that there’s not enough of it. The film hangs on Scott fighting the exs for Ramona, but after a few scenes at the beginning, there’s not a lot of development between the two. Basically, it’s hard to feel why Scott is fighting for Ramona. Now, the reason why this is is obvious — there are seven fights, the film is only 110 minutes, and the film is packed tighter with goings-on than most trilogies. The fact that Edgar Wright can pack the film with so much and have it all work and be comprehensible is, frankly, a testament to Wright’s skill as a director. But the Ramona thing is a problem nonetheless.
My other big problem with the movie is the ending, which is kind of the same problem — at the end, the climax, Ramona suddenly stands on the sidelines and Knives, Scott’s ex, effectively takes her place. Seriously, Scott and Knives fight Gideon while Ramona lies on the ground somewhere — and suddenly the whole Scott/Ramona relationship is ignored as if it never existed, and the movie pretends like Scott and Knives are the one with the destined love. AND THEN Scott ends up with Knives and Ramona walking away… only for Knives to give Scott to Ramona as some kind of consolation prize.
Now, I read somewhere that the original movie ending was supposed to have Scott end up with Knives, but when Bryan Lee O’Malley actually wrote the end of the comic, Wright filmed that extra scene where Scott ends up with Ramona. I guess this is true, but it makes no sense to me on either level — in the comic (and the movie), Scott’s relationship with Knives is one of his symptoms of his refusal to mature, which he overcomes on his journey. To suddenly pretend that Scott is destined to be with the 18-year-old Knives is creepy, just like all the other characters note when Scott’s dating her at the beginning. But that final scene where Scott walks off with Ramona totally contradicts the last 20 minutes of the movie, which overemphasizes the Scott/Knives thing. It’s all just really, really weird, and since the Scott/Ramona relationship suffers enough in the movie without it, this just boggles me. Although I should probably note that I feel the actual ending of the comic isn’t much better (but at least it stays strictly Scott/Ramona).
But despite this major, major problem, I still have no hesitation saying I loved the movie. You guys will probably give me shit for it, but I honestly think the first 75% is brilliant. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is both the best comic book movie ever made, and the best videogame movie ever made. Sure, you’ve seen the sound effects popping up in the trailers, and they’re both subtle and awesome in a way that truly adds to the viewing experience. More importantly, Wright’s razor-sharp editing allows jokes from the comics — that only should work in the comics — to work in the movie, too (Scott’s hair/hat is probably the clearest example). Truly, Wright has managed to bring the language of comics to cinema, and make it work — I think it’s an astounding feat.
Now, re: Michael Cera — I actually like Michael Cera (seriously, he’s good forever with me for his work in Arrested Development), but I understand people having Cera fatigue. I think Cera actually plays a character in this film, and not his usual persona (which, in his defense, he’s been constantly asked to play). The role of Scott Pilgrim isn’t so different from his other roles, so I can see where people assume he’s playing the same thing — but he’s not. Scott is clueless and immature, not nebbish and unsure of himself, and while Cera isn’t Brando, I think he pulls it off well. He can act, he just hasn’t really been asked to until now. And holy shit is he great in the fight scenes — even if you’ve become sick of Cera, I think it’d be worth seeing the movie just to watch little George Michael beat the shit out of people.
Speaking of which, all the fight scenes are amazing. If they’re not incredible representations of the fights in the comics, they’re better. Seriously, I’ve read SP all the way through twice, and I still can’t remember the fight with the twins. In the movie? I can. Because it involves a fight between dragons and a giant yeti made of music.
Also the music is amazing. Beck wrote all the songs for the bands, and the rest of the soundtrack is unbelievably good. I’ve listened to nothing else for the last five days.
So that’s that. I know this review sounds ambivalent, but I’m not — I loved the movie, and actually want to see it again (and own it). It somehow lived up to all my expectations, which were obviously pretty great, and my problems with the messiness of the ending don’t change that. It sounds kind of like a contradiction, but somehow it’s not. Go see it. Maybe you won’t like it, but I don’t know how you’d think it was anything other than a great movie.