Whether or not Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs the World actually works as a film — and the critics, as we'll see, are split — it'll serve just fine as a case study on the state of multi-platform movie marketing in the summer of 2010. Maybe you've fiddled with the interactive trailer. Maybe you've retweeted a link to the remake of the original trailer incorporating imagery from the comic the movie's based on. Or maybe you've gotten a tentative smirk out of watching Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman doing the weather in Atlanta or Zach Galifianakis walking in on one of their countless interviews only to melt into a sort of doodle of a music video. Even if you've done none of these things, you know that Scott Pilgrim vs the World is opening in theaters. Today.
"Edgar Wright is cinema's most inspired mash-up artist," begins Nick Schager in Slant, "and Scott Pilgrim vs the World may be his finest hybridization to date, a romantic comedy recast as a mêlée-heavy video game that stands shoulder to shoulder with his zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead and his Michael Bay-ified Ealing comedy-meets-Wicker Man actioner Hot Fuzz. In the sense that Wright's films are steeped in pop culture, he stands as a kindred spirit to Quentin Tarantino, though his is a more jovial, heartfelt, rambunctious body of work, one in which all manner of camera tricks — whiplash edits, scene-connecting pans and wipes, outlandish CG — function as direct extensions of his parodies-cum-homages. Wright loves to flaunt his influences but isn't afraid to acknowledge how silly his referentiality-overloaded stories can be, and that balance between earnest affection and self-conscious jokiness energizes his latest."
But for the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns, this is "an insular, punishingly alienating experience preaching only to the faithful, devoted hearts of arrested 12-year-old boys. It's singularly fixated on video games and shallow visions of women as one-dimensional objects to be either obtained or discarded and offers no possible point of entry to anybody over the age of 30."
"You haven't seen a movie like this, because there isn't a movie exactly like this," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "Written sound effects appear in the background when a surprisingly physical Cera punches or leaps or even clicks on a light switch. Orgiastic comic-book battles break out like dance numbers in a Fred Astaire musical. It's a messy, energetic, expressionistic movie that would probably make a control freak like Kubrick put a hot compress over his eyes for a week or two, a pop-culture feast shoved into a blender and sprayed all over a theater, the way that scores of old men (like Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers) have tried and failed. The trick, the difference between Stone and Wright, is that Wright comes from a place of love; he adores the world of video games and cartoons and Seinfeld reruns, and so does Cera's Pilgrim."
"The amusement and distraction factors aside," blogs the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "Wright is onto something that, in its way, is derived from and similar to one of the seminal moments in modern cinema — Jean-Paul Belmondo's imitations and emulations of Humphrey Bogart in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. Just as Godard was representing a micro-world — soon to get much bigger — in which the viewing of movies provided crucial templates for experience, so Wright is presenting a generation of teens and young adults whose sensibility — whose understanding of their own behavior and inner life — is derived from graphic novels and video games. He's not exactly depicting what Anthony [Lane] calls 'Scott's inward reveries,' but, rather, representations of Scott's emotional life in terms of the media that both spark and condition his imagination.... With the willed goofiness of its media-centrism — which both diverts and distills the constant pressure its characters endure — Scott Pilgrim vs the World presents a richer blend of the contemporary adolescent experience than any teen comedy I've seen."
It's "the timeless tale of boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy battles said girl's seven evil exes in order to win her hand," explains Kimberley Jones in the Austin Chronicle. "Boy is Scott Pilgrim, an unemployed indie rocker who spends his days mooching off friends (from the sprawling but distinctive cast of such go-to character actors as [Kieran] Culkin, Alison Pill and [Mark] Webber) and ambling around Toronto (playing itself, and cast to perfection). Pilgrim is portrayed by Cera (Superbad), a likable young actor who had anthemicness — 'poster boy for a post-post-irony age!' — thrust upon him too soon. He gently strays here from the Cera 'type' of shambling lovesick pup — not far, but enough to count. Yes, Pilgrim is lovesick — he's got it bad for an American delivery girl named Ramona Flowers ([Mary Elizabeth] Winstead), she of the evil exes and Rainbow Brite bob — but Pilgrim is also an unintentional prick, awesomely self-absorbed and responsibility-shy. The battles, then, are his way of growing up and owning up, though Wright (with co-writer Michael Bacall) certainly doesn't stage them so transparently."
For Matt Zoller Seitz, writing in Salon, "something's off — and it's off in a way that casts a revealing light on other recent movies starring hyper-intelligent, dorky-looking straight guys."
But the New York Times' AO Scott finds "a disarming sincerity and a remarkable willingness to acknowledge ambivalence, self-doubt, hurt feelings and all the other complications of youth. At the end, the movie comes home to the well-known territory of the coming-of-age story, with an account of lessons learned and conflicts resolved. But you'll swear you've never seen anything like it before."
More on the film, then, from Chris Barsanti (PopMatters), Todd Brown (Twitch), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Richard Corliss (Time), David Edelstein (New York), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Glenn Kenny, Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Robert Levin (Critic's Notebook), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Evan Narcisse (IFC), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), David Poland, James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times), Sam Stander (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Scott Weinberg (Cinematical), Armond White (New York Press), Michael Wilmington (Movie City News), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
Interviews with Wright: Todd Brown (Twitch), David Fear (TONY), Todd Gilchrist (Cinematical), Dave Itzkoff (NYT), Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Elvis Mitchell (KCRW, audio), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Steven James Snyder (Time). For the Playlist, Wright lists his "Top Ten Favorite Musicals (& Five Rock 'N' Roll Movies)."
Then there are the interviews with Anna Kendrick: Caroline Bankoff (Interview), Kyle Buchanan (Movieline) and Audrey Tempelsman (TONY). And Keith Phipps (AV Club) talks with Kendrick and Jason Schwartzman. Todd Gilchrist interviews Winstead for Cinematical.
As for the original series — whether you call them comic books or graphic novels is up to you — you'll find an appreciation from Jane Potter in the Millions and an annotated slide show from Dan Kois in Slate.
"One of the most infectious things about Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-volume masterpiece is the way it channels video games in both the background and in the logic governing the plot progression," writes Evan Narcisse at Techland (where you'll also find a roundtable discussion on the movie). "And now the patently obvious — Scott Pilgrim becoming a game — has happened with Ubisoft's Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game." This "downloadble title stands as an example of everything that's right with fan service. SPvTW apes the side-scrolling beat-em-up structure of classics like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage with some RPG elements.... It's weird playing 8-bit graphics through a high-def console, because the juxtaposition of sharpness and blockiness makes the retro look is oddly hypnotic."
Listening. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore talk about "how game culture and logic have seeped into film, from the battles and extra lives of Scott Pilgrim vs the World to the avatar dystopia of Gamer to the surreal critique of eXistenZ." Scott Pilgrim is also the first topic of this week's Culture Gabfest at Slate. While you listen, you can gaze at the new poster for the film that Martin Ansin (site) has created for Mondo and Universal.
Update, 8/14: At the Awl, Mike Barthel explains that "the little things that bug me about the movie all ultimately feed into one big complaint: the wonderful treatment of female characters in the comic book gets lost in the transition to the big screen."
Updates, 8/16: "The first two films work as pastiche and homage, but in Scott Pilgrim, [Wright's] evolved form moves beyond those humbler ambitions." Adam Cook: "Wright has often publically revealed which films and filmmakers he admires. Two films he loves are of particular interest: First, Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, a satiric rock opera, and second, The Red Shoes, the Powell & Pressburger masterpiece. One hints at a satiric sensibility and the latter hints that Wright's admiration of cinematic technique extends to filmmaking in service of ideas. Indeed Wright's films are as technique-heavy as the work from all of the these filmmakers and with Scott Pilgrim, his form has been set free from his inspirations and has moved into unfettered creation."
On the other hand, Jeff Klingman for the L: "The movie will likely be the dominant pop-cultural representation of O'Malley's site-specific Toronto indie-rock playpen. Which, given the richness of that comics world, is sort of a shame."
Update, 8/17: "It seems fairly obvious by now... the gamer population can't open a movie." Bill Gibron at PopMatters: "Even better, the Comic-Con obsessed geek whose aesthetic is supposed to determine the future of film can't make something otherwise cinematically viable a solid hit. It happened with Watchmen. It happened again with Kick-Ass... and sadly, this past weekend, it happened again with Edgar Wright's revolutionary Scott Pilgrim vs the World. No matter the debatable nature of each title's quality, or the reasons behind the (perceived) box office failure, the truth is that three very entertaining, oddly effective movies — each originally positioned to take the pop scene by far-reaching force — wound up limping away to respectable, if not wholly spectacular financial results. Thanks a lot, X-boxers."
For the NYT's video game critic Seth Schiesel, Scott Pilgrim is "annoying, contrived and as emotionally meaningful as a chalupa.... Today's top designers understand that while a game's biomechanical action may be its most important element, that action has little resonance unless the player has been made to care about the surrounding characters and setting. But Scott Pilgrim never establishes Scott himself as sympathetic or worth cheering for, and it never establishes why Ramona is apparently worth chasing (beyond that neon hair)."
"[P]erhaps the main reason I dislike this movie so much," writes Bob Clark, "despite of its debt to the video-game culture I live and breath outside of cinema, is because like Inception before it (another recent dreamtrip of the video-game generation), this ground has already been covered in far more compelling fashion as a video-game itself, in Goichi Suda's underrated Wii title No More Heroes.... Just as Cervantes put the romantic longing for adventurous chivalry in literature under the microscope with Don Quixote and Godard swung the CinemaScope camera around upon itself in the filmmaking odyssey of Contempt, Suda's game works primarily as both a love-letter and indictment of its own medium, while Wright's film (and to an extent, O'Malley's comics series) merely acts to co-opt the language of that new form."
Updates, 8/26: "Your eyes are saturated but you don't feel bludgeoned; the film's too-muchness becomes part of its joke." Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman.
"Despite riffing on some apparently emotional themes — male romantic status-anxiety is brought interestingly into parallel with Canada's cultural cringe to the United States — Wright insists on nothing more than comedy and the spectacle of pastiche, an entertainment of Seinfeldian inconsequence." Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "The movie has been attacked in some quarters for lack of heart, and for an alleged lack of box office nous in pitching to a demographic that favours illegal downloads over ticket-buying. I can only say that where some see shallowness, I saw a witty interplay of surfaces and style."
"Scott Pilgrim vs the World is no substitute for reading the books," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu, "but, closer to Bollywood than to The Dark Knight, it's a tonic for anyone who's bored of comic heroes being rendered in edgy, dark hues. It understands perfectly the lunacy of being of love — how, at the same time, it clarifies and deludes, ennobles and fells us. It captures, better than any film since Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, the befuddling, exhilarating speed at which love transports us from grief to rapture to despair to cosmic happiness — all in the blink of an eyelid."
Wright's a guest on Fresh Air.
"Scott Pilgrim feels like Ghost World in its honouring of young people with spikey, interesting personalities," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out London, where Tom Huddleston interviews Wright. "There are hints of Woody Allen in its navel-gazing. And there's a dash of The Matrix in its sneaky affection for pyrotechnics. It could have been a noisy, flashy mess, but luckily it's got heart, which makes it feel fun and unique, and more like a lo-fi, endearing mess instead."
Viewing (12'56"). The Observer's Jason Solomons interviews Wright.
Updates, 8/27: For the Independent's Anthony Quinn, Scott Pilgrim is "a goofy, anarchic one-off that always seems on the verge of collapse. At least I hope it's a one-off."
While the Guardian's Danny Leigh is no fan, he does note that at GreenCine Daily, Vadim Rizov has "mounted a spirited defence of Cera, protesting at the way he's unfavourably compared to Jesse Eisenberg, star of the impending The Social Network and a league more versatile than his peer, arguing that the measure of an actor shouldn't be variety alone. But while Rizov makes some good points sticking up for Cera, it's also undeniable that as a screen performer he's exhibited the dramatic range of an insole, making it impossible to picture him doing anything from here on in except more of what he's done already. No lie, Zac Efron has proved himself a chameleon by contrast."
Update, 9/5: David Zuckerman in Film Comment: "Let's face it: it's not the film that has an attention-span problem, but the new generation. Scott Pilgrim is just one in a string of recent pictures geared toward pixilated youth, which want to conflate the moviegoing experience with the synesthetic dispersion of the video arcade. Not my idea of a good time at the cinema per se; but then again, the inherent non-linearity of this movie may find the new kids getting experimental despite themselves."
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