Top 10 films of our lifetime #5: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
22nd September 2014
Like you, I was very disappointed to see that Edgar Wright decided to part ways with Marvel and Ant-Man, because he's a director who is capable of doing wonderful things with a camera; the combination of Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd and the Marvel universe made me feel a little giddy. Still, I can take comfort in the fact that he's basically already made a superhero movie in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and not only that, he had Beck provide the tunes. Ant-Man Shmant-Man - Ali.
Director: Edgar Wright / Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brandon Routh
Writers: Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall, Bryan Lee O'Malley (graphic novels) / Cinematography: Bill Pope
|can't identify personally with Steven Spielberg. I like to keep the darkness of David Fincher at arm's length. Edgar Wright, however, is the first director who I ever felt was making movies just for me.
I first developed an interest in film and geek culture around the time of Spaced, Wright's turn-of-the-millennium Channel 4 sitcom, which helped shape my comedic sensibilities, broadened my cinematic horizons (the DVD came with a homage-o-meter: a valuable tool for an idiot like me, who frequently learned of significant pop culture events via piss-takes on The Simpsons et al) and fattened up my iPod (hello, Lemon Jelly and David Holmes).
When Edgar Wright graduated to the big screen with Shaun Of The Dead, I began to cultivate a taste for the undead; who knew a zom-rom-com could work so well? This is how I came to learn about the likes of George Romero and Greg Nicotero and Dario Fulci. By the time buddy cop parody Hot Fuzz fired up its sirens, I was ready pen in hand to take notes from the master magpie. Every Edgar Wright movie feels like the most fun film school imaginable, only it never feels like work, so accessible is his style, so slick his syllabus.
Videogames have always played a big part in Edgar Wright's work (the scene in Spaced where Pegg's character plays Resident Evil while on cheap speed directly inspired Shaun Of The Dead; Shaun and his friends connect over Tekken and Timesplitters 2) but button-bashers feel like they played just as big a part in the creation of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World as Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels.
As a film fan with a history of gaming, watching Scott takes on seven evil ex-boyfriends like he's straight outta Street Fighter II scratches an itch that no other director could reach. Factor in the involvement of musicians including Beck, The Pixies and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and watching Scott Pilgrim Vs The World felt like finding the perfect pop culture trifecta – I wanted to hold it aloft atop a mountain. I am in lesbians with this film. Why doesn't everyone only make movies about things I love all the time?
There's something irresistible about the structure of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Learn the life lesson. Beat the boss. Level up. Repeat until you win the girl or you take a pounding. There's no greater purpose at play here other than to pick up speed, make some noise and have some fun. Saying it's the perfect movie for the ADHD generation is perhaps selling it short, but the fact is Scott Pilgrim doesn't give you a chance to be bored – it's a film that dishes out rewards small and often, like a videogame that's desperate to keep you playing. It might be a line, a gag, a musical cue, a transition, a graphic – Wright fills his films fuller than is strictly sensible, cramming his cinematic suitcase with treat after treat. When unsuspecting audiences open up his boxes of delights, they burst open violently as if spring-loaded with entertainment. It can be overwhelming. It is never not interesting.
Edgar Wright goes the extra mile. He wrote to Nintendo for permission to use the music from A Link To The Past (he called it “the nursery rhyme of a generation”); he went through the legal nightmare of securing the Seinfeld theme tune for a throwaway sitcom gag. When tasked with creating the music of Sex Bob-Omb – music being a medium that comic-books struggle to convey – Wright hired Beck to write the tunes, ensuring that the soundtrack would nestle neatly into my regular rotation. He cast young and cast well: Aubrey Plaza before she was April; Alison Pill pre-Newsroom; Brie Larson pre Short Term 12; the most talented Culkin. Michael Cera admirably steps into the Simon Pegg-shaped hole of big kid on the cusp of adolescence while Jason Schwarzman gives great douchebag. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is swarming with well-sourced talent, nary a single 'name' on the cast list; Wright understood the importance of making a movie for geeks of a certain age by casting relatable and reliable.
I could watch Scott Pilgrim Vs The World every day for the rest of my life and notice something new on every viewing. Sometimes it's the small little touches – the paper cups blowing across the bow of pre-fight #3's stand-off like so much sand in a Leone western. Sometimes it's the costume details – Gideon Gordon Graves' insignia looking suspiciously like a Legend Of Zelda triforce. Wright, however, is always the architect of these treasures, hiding them away for eagle-eyed viewers to appreciate on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh time round. He's made what I consider to be one of the sexiest-looking movies of the millennium – a movie so sharp, if it was in 3D it'd cut your face off.
And hey, can we talk about something really sexy like editing now please? I dread to think what an Edgar Wright movie plays like before he takes the scalpel tool to it. Because while Scott Pilgrim's special effects are subtle as well as sensational and the fight choreography is better than in most action movies, the key to the film's success is in the pacing – it hurls itself towards its final bout at a frightening lick.
Wright's trademark fast cuts felt a little incongruous in Shaun/Hot Fuzz but the technique feels right at home in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, particularly for a story featuring motor-mouthed characters who fight like lightning and play bass like thunder. It got no love in the technicals at the 2011 Academy Awards – even 127 Hours got a Best Editing nod, despite the fact Danny Boyle used MTV-style turbo-cuts to try and edit around the fact that James Franco was stuck under a rock.
Scott Pilgrim's failure to perform at the box-office really stung – maybe it hurt because the film feels so tailored to someone of my age and lifestyle (sedentary) that I couldn't help but feel partly responsible. I still remember bouncing out of the press screening energised like Tigger on cheap speed, electrified by 10,000 volts of pure cinematic wattage, so it was baffling to me that people chose not to see Scott Pilgrim Vs The World at the cinema, instead bestowing on it that backhanded compliment of 'cult status'. Why doesn't everyone only make movies about things I love all the time? Because this is what happens. One very happy customer and a room full of studio executives asking what the fuck happened.
Spielberg can sell a movie with sentiment. Fincher can create a film with atmosphere. Wright, however, can paint a picture with a thousand pictures. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks, Edgar. Keep 'em coming.
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