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Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

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I’m feeling lucky. I’m about to rave about how well-conceived and executed Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is, and lavish praise on it about how impressively it captures the feeling of source material which should have been much more elusive. I’d hate to feel like I’d been bought.

If I had been bought, though, here’s what the price would have been.

It’s the final Thursday panel in Hall H at the San Diego Comic-Con. Small tin buttons, my least favorite convention swag, are being distributed through the crowd. Naturally, I end up with two, an extra making it to the end of our row and is unwanted by my neighbor. Director Edgar Wright steps out onto stage and immediately begs our pardon: he’s got so much ground to cover that he’ll not only be serving as the panel moderator, but will also have to interview himself. He asks himself a question, answers, and begins to introduce his cast.

In all, 13 members of the cast are introduced with a short video and music sting, take a seat, and are asked a single question by Wright. He stipulates that, again due to time concerns, they must answer in a single word. Edgar Wright clearly knows how to keep a panel moving, as this and most of his comedic bits totally work.

What doesn’t work is the entrance of the final actor, Michael Cera. He walks in wearing an ill-fitted Captain America costume, complete with ill-fitting cowl. Unfortunately for him, Will Ferrell bombed with a similar gag eight hours earlier in the day’s first panel for Megamind. In fact, a version of it seems to be attempted by somebody at least once a year. Not only is it a failure of originality, but also in general concept. Yes, some people wear costumes to Comic-Con. Yes, some of the getups are fairly bad. Yes, I realize this is some attempt at creating solidarity with the audience. Mostly, though, it comes off as mildly condescending. Fortunately, I love the guy, and most of the crowd seems to forgive the botched gag instantly.

A long video sequence, jokes about previous panels during the day, and a hilarious and completely throwaway appearance by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost follow. The video stokes my appetite for this movie, which is already my last and most anticipated of the summer. I am dying to see this movie. There are questions from the crowd, most of which are so generic and uninteresting that they should bring what is a fast, breezy pace of the panel to a screeching halt. Somewhere between the enthusiasm of the cast and Wright’s rather brilliant moderating, they don’t.

Wright then asks who would like to see another clip from the film. The crowd cheers. “Or, would you rather see the entire movie right now?” Crowd pops even harder. I immediately wonder if they’re going to screen a large chunk of it right there in the panel. I glance at my watch – there’s not enough time.

And then he drops the bomb. The movie is screening in 45 minutes at a local theatre. Those with a button with 1UP on it are invited. I hear something vaguely approximating “I win!!” slip through my lips as I grab the second button out of my bag. I doubt I really said that because I’m far too calm and cool for such an outburst.

In what feels like the most spontaneous moment I’ve seen at Comic-Con in a long time, Wright cues the second video clip as a consolation prize for those without the golden tickets, walks off the stage, through the crowd, and drags us all trailing behind him to the movie. It feels like all the fun of the Flynn’s Arcade scavenger hunt from 2009 times a hundred.

Arriving at the theatre, I’m offered free drinks and popcorn. I walk into the auditorium and see two DJs spinning on the stage. I am neither hip nor young enough to know that they are Dan the Automator and Kid Koala, but I enjoy their work as the crowd files in. They stage a pillow fight between two audience members, complete with MIDI sound effects.

Eventually Wright greets us all, thanks us for coming, and asks us to stay after the movie because not only do the cast want to say hello, but Metric will play a short set after that. He leaves to thunderous applause, the lights dim, and the film starts.

What a fun movie.

If you were born after 1970 and have even a passing familiarity with video games, you are going to love on this film so hard that you may be at risk of suffocating it. References to and sound cues from classic video games abound in telling the story of Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Canadian slacker and guitarist in the band Sex Bob-omb.

Pilgrim dreams about and then meets Ramona Flowers, only to find that in order to date her, he has to defeat her Seven Evil Exes in boss battles ripped straight from a video game. Each ex, when defeated, pops and turns into coins. The fights are bright, strongly kinetic, and frenetically paced. Think of them as the moment in a musical where a character, unable to properly communicate the emotion of the moment in words, breaks into song. Only here, a fight breaks out. If that doesn’t strike you as brilliant, you might be outside the target demographic of this movie.

The heart of this film exists in the world of old school, 8-bit video gaming. As if that wasn’t enough of a cultural touchstone to appeal to the gamer in me, it’s filled with great music and a fast-paced, lighthearted coming-of-age story. I was not in a band in my 20’s. I never dated anybody with colored hair. I certainly never had emotional moments so powerful that I broke out into epic fights inspired by video games. Yet this movie captures perfectly that post-teenage feeling of being untethered, unsure of how to act and who to be, and yet feeling very much at the center of the universe.

Michael Cera is perfect as Pilgrim. He takes what on the surface could be an unlikeable character and turns him endearing. Pilgrim may have a string of broken hearts behind him, but Cera plays him so that we know it wasn’t out of malice or even selfishness: Scott is just totally oblivious.

The rest of the cast is equally great. Of note is Kieran Culkin’s Wallace Wells, Pilgrim’s gay roommate and confidante. Wright’s confident and clear direction keeps the entire cast in the same movie which is, given how outlandish the gaming culture-soaked conceit is, no mean task. The movie is paced so quickly that it is almost over too fast – which feels like the biggest compliment I can pay lately, having sat in some 90 minute movies that felt interminable.

The second biggest compliment I can pay: I’ll be there again opening day. Beyond a fun story, great action sequences, and some great acting, there is simply too much going on for a dedicated gamer to catch in one sitting. I’m also buying my lifetime pass to the Edgar Wright show, and really hope he ends up with the Ant Man gig. Given what a home run of an adaptation Scott Pilgrim is, I can’t wait to see what he might get up to working on the tiniest Avenger.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Poster

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Poster

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  1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    World Wide News Flash

    July 29, 2010 at 10:16am

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