Postmodern Idiosyncrasies vs. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The title of this post is a little disingenuous, but it wasn’t a ploy to draw you in. When I promised, on March 7th 2010, via the legally binding medium of twitter to review the film under that heading, I hadn’t realised quite what a vast cultural edifice Scott Pilgrim would become. I’d naively assumed that the film would be fairly self-contained, I never realised the push it would be given.
Instead the last month has also seen the release of the last volume in the series; Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour and the 8-bit style beat ‘em up movie tie-in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game has come to both the PlayStation Network and X-Box Live Arcade. At this point I think a review of the film, however detailed, would be missing the point. This makes the title of the post incorrect. So discussion, delay and superfluous verbal padding aside, I hereby re-title this post:
Postmodern Idiosyncrasies vs. The Cult of Pilgrim
In hindsight, the film was bound to get some significant press; it’s the American directorial debut of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright and stars Michael Cera, typically awkward of a gaggle of limbs and a confused half-smile that audiences have been enjoying (excepting the growing number of detractors who point to Cera as the Hollywood codification of indie-kid uncomfortable cool) since Arrested Development. That, and isn’t that enough?, is bolstered further by the presence of pretty-boys and prospective a-listers Brandon Routh (defunct Superman) and Chris Evans (defunct Human Torch and imminent Avenger in Captain America: The First Avenger) playing two of the evil-exes. Throw in a few attractive love interests in the forms of Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong and Alison Pill and the more cynical-minded marketing exec. would be doing a happy, happy dance. But then you factor in the early-twenties romance and layered guitar music the achingly hip, desperate neediness of the characters and give it the stylings of 80’s computer games and 90’s sitcoms. Actually… Maybe it’s not too hard to see why the films been doing pretty badly at the box office, despite the promotional push. Maybe they could have included the Kim Pine and Knives Chau kiss, and focused all the marketing on that.
Since we’re on the film, we’ll start there. Edgar Wright’s never been a director afraid of an overtly stylistic choice, so in some ways he’s a natural fit for an adaptation like Scott Pilgrim. The film races along for the first half, having to establish Scott as a loser whose luck is better than he deserves, then sets him against his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes making him earn the first significant thing he does. It’s almost a shame they went with the “vs. The World” suffix, because the first volume’s “Precious Little Life” might have been a better fit. The cast are almost uniformly excellent, with Michael Cera proving a surprisingly plausible action star. Some, like Alison Pill and Mark Webber, squeeze a lot out of their brief turns on screen and I was mentally casting Pill as Peppermint Pattie in a live-action Peanuts as soon as I saw her. Some minor weaknesses aside, it’s a truly excellent film, “cinema as spectacle” at its finest. And it’s funny.
That said, it’s almost a shame it was done as a single film. Whilst an extended version would lose the pounding pace of the current, almost-frenetic cut, the recently released final volume of the digest gets to give the inevitable conclusion a little more space. The secondary characters are also better served, with some alternative storylines, such as Stephen Stills’s (I have difficulties with possessive apostrophes: “An editor, an editor, my Kingdom for an editor”, etc) personal life and Kim Pine’s… anger issues?, getting more fully explored. The world of the comic, perhaps obviously, is more detailed than the film, and the biggest failing of the last volume is probably the amount of it which is given over to the climactic fight. The book’s strength is the characters and its sense of their absurdity. The film keeps that, but without having the time to develop them all, it’s something less than the source material. I’d recommend starting with the comics then moving on to the film.
The download-only tie-in game (-I get paid by the dash-) is a side scrolling beat ‘em up in the vein of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, with the levels navigable by a top down Mario Bros. 3 style world-map. Given that the comic and film both pay loving homage to the 8-bit era this isn’t a surprise. The gameplay’s less-dated, it has been brought up to date with added RPG-elements, unlockable moves, characters and the now-staple of achievements. The soundtrack is by Anamanguchi who, I’m reliably informed, are something of a big deal in the chiptune punk niche. Which is a little unfair, the music works well with the style of animation and with the gameplay, though I’m not sure I’d listen to it on the bus. There’s a definite feeling of glee to this game, a joy in revelling in the tropes and conventions of a bygone era in gaming, but it’s a fairly odd idea. A comic book love story with computer game rules adapted into a game by way of a film, it loses some of its quirkiness when the idiosyncrasies (hey, isn’t that in the site name?) are returned to their roots. Of course the true measure of the game can be taken in the fact that this piece is days later than planned because I went for a quick replay to remind myself of the games foibles, and spent the next couple of days finishing it all over again.
So there you have it, a flavour of Pilgrim for fans of every medium, and what’s more unusual is that they’re all rather good. This is obviously unsettling for a man of my cynical proclivities, so I’m going to have a lie down.