Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Let me preface this review by saying I had absolutely no knowledge of this movie or the Scott Pilgrim universe beyond knowing it was a popular graphic novel, and it had something to do with video games. Let me end the preface by saying I'm pretty sure I still know nothing about the Scott Pilgrim universe, but I know a fair bit about the movie. I'm warning you now, there's going to be spoilers in this review, because the plot to this movie is absolute balls, and if you're seeing it for the plot, you confuse me.

Here's the short form of the review: This movie is terrible, and you should absolutely see it. Cheaply. Do not spend more than $10. In fact, wait for a rental. There's not really much in this movie that benefits from being on the big screen.
This is the first Michael Cera movie I've ever seen, and I can tell I've not been missing much. Why is this guy in so many movies lately? He doesn't seem like that great an actor, and he doesn't have much screen presence. That said, he's passable in this role, and everyone else pulls their weight. There's no one who's really stand-out, good or bad, as an actor.

The plot in this movie is atrocious. It's simultaneously bland and stupid. Last chance to turn away before spoilers...

Okay, so the plot is Scott Pilgrim is this random semi-pathetic dude. I say semi-pathetic because his friends *really* seem to waffle on that. He's 22, jobless, broken up with his last girlfriend for over a year but still not over it, and has just started dating a 17 year old Chinese Catholic school girl Knives Cho. Yeah. Knives. Is that a traditional name I'm just not aware of? Scott's also in a band with two of his high school buddies. And it's hard to tell if the band is supposed to suck or not. I don't think they sound terrible, but no one ever really gets excited over their playing. Yet several plot points revolve around the band actually being good. Actually, more than good. But we'll get to that. Random video game conceits are thrown in to the movie, as well. But it's done really oddly. It never affects anything outside the fights, but it still shows up randomly in things like Scott having a "Pee Bar" that drains when he goes pee. Once. Once, Scott jumps in and out of a room, changing clothes, but it's not a time cut. There's a lot of these little things that happen. Once. In fact, there's a throwaway gag that one character says about appearing in Scott's dream before meeting him, "oh, you have a tunnel in your mind, great short cut. 15 miles in like 3 minutes." But I'm not sure it's actually a joke. The bulk of the plot revolves around that girl. Her name's Ramona, and she's American. That's important, because the movie takes place in Toronto. Not that they actually exploit that in any way. There's nothing about this movie that requires taking place in Canada, let alone Toronto. Really wastes it, in my opinion. If you're going to bother labelling the location, try and do something with it. Any way, Ramona is "hardcore," so of course mild Scott falls for her instantly. Not that we ever really learn much about Ramona beyond she's had a lot of relationships, and she likes fighting, and she dyes her hair once every week and a half. Oh, and those exes are out to ruin her life by duelling any boy she dates, which quickly becomes Scott. So if Scott wants to keep dating Ramona, he has to fight the members of the League of Evil Exes.

Aaaaaaaand this is why the movie is awesome. The fights are amazing. Each one is unique, interesting, well-shot, and easy to follow, while being completely over-the-top. For some reason, during fight scenes, people get super-powers. I'll talk more about this later. But it starts out... kinda slow. During a show for Scott's band (The "Sex Bob-ombs." It's a video game references! Get it? Get it?! GET IT?!  THIS MOVIE HAS LOTS TO DO WITH VIDEO GAMES! LOLS!! ...ugh.) Ramona's first ex comes bursting in... through the ceiling. And this is your first real indication something is just weird in this universe. Scott, despite never showing any aptitude or skill at fighting prior to this, though he has some ability at playing a DDR clone involving ninjas, manages to fairly roundly clean the guy's clock. Until he starts busting out fireballs. Scott eventually wins, and we've met the first member of the league, and gotten some backstory. The second fight scene takes place on a movie set, because hey, they film movies in Toronto now (LOL HAI FOURTH WALL! ...ugh.). The Evil Ex this time is a movie star, complete with his own stunt team. Who then proceed to engage in a great fight with Scott, while the Ex just sorta watches. I won't spoil how Scott wins this one, because heh, it was pretty good. The third Evil Ex turns out to be dating Scott's Ex, leading to a stupid scene where the third Ex slaps the highlights out of Knives' hair. Literally. The dye is slapped off her hair, on to the carpet. Apparently this guy has powers because he's Vegan, and he went to Vegan University. Scott and he engage in a bass battle, since they're both bass players. Scott eventually wins, but by trickery, not by out-playing him. In fact, Scott's band played just before the fight, and absolutely no one seemed to think they played well. Keep that in mind. The fourth fight is against Ramona's ex-girlfriend, which was broadcast clearly, and the only person at all surprised is Scott, because Ramona clearly corrects him when he says "Ex-boyfriends" to say just "Exes." Also, she attacked him earlier. This fight is notable because it takes place shortly after the bass battle, so Scott's still worn down. Ramona saves his ass, and pulls a GIANT EFF-OFF WARHAMMER out of her bag, and starts engaging in a battle with her Ex. But turns out Scott has to beat her. Scott says he can't bring himself to hit a girl, so Ramona works him like a puppet. Scott wins by exploiting a weakness, and she explodes in to coins. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, at the start of every fight, the people fighting square off and get a Vs. on-screen between them, and when someone's defeated, they explode in to coins and Scott gets a point value for them.

The next fight is at the Battle of the Bands that Scott's band was competing in, in an Amp vs. Amp duel against the fifth and sixth Evil Ex, twins. So Scott's band has to battle the twins. Only instead of physically fighting, they duel using ELECTRICAL INCARNATIONS OF THEIR MUSIC. Yeah, remember earlier, I said no one found Scott's band at all energizing, or even worthy of applause? And Scott lost a one-on-one bass battle. Yet somehow now they're able to, with a rather meagre set-up, completely whoop the twins who have an entire wall of amps, and some not-inconsiderable skill to back it up. Kinda stupid, but still awesome.

It's at this time that we learn that a) the guy sponsoring the battle of the bands is the last Evil Ex, and b) he wants to give Scott's band a contract, even though the contest still has a few rounds, and c) Ramona's going back to him. Turns out she has a chip on the back of her neck, and it controls her. Who knew? *shrug*

Scott refuses to be in the band if they sign, and his other friend replaces him. Not important in any way except that it allows his band to be playing without him, later. Since Ramona's with the last Evil Ex, Scott gets all sad and dejected, Evil Ex calls Scott, pisses him off, and Scott goes to kick ass. The following sequence cannot adequately be recounted in words. Suffice it to say that it likely exceeds anything you could possibly imagine in simultaneous awesome and cheese. There's more video game winks, sub-plots wrapped up, sudden character growth, and mostly-unbelievable character interaction. And some of the best fighting in the movie.

When this movie hits DVD release, I'm going to buy it, and it's going straight in to my "so bad it's awesome" pile, to be pulled out whenever I need something to laugh at and as a bonus, I'll have fun watching the fights.

So, the reason I put spoilers in the review is I want to muse about the Pilgrim-verse, and how messed up it must be according to this movie. During the first fight, the Evil Ex throws fireballs and incinerates a couple bystanders. There's massive damage to the venues. But no one comments. The cloesest time to someone commenting is Scott himself saying "is this really happening?" when Ramona fights her ex-girlfriend. And I don't think he was commenting on the bizarreness. The only powers ever explained are the Vegan powers, and that's just a "Vegans are naturally better than normal people" jab. But really, the only time powers are shown outside of a fight is then. So, that's the only time they're shown outside a fight, and only time they're explained. Meaning that every fight is just a "yeah, people are beating the crap out of each other in insane ways, ho hum" thing.

Does that mean these fights are common, and that anyone can just sudden pull out the ability to take inhuman amounts of damage, or summon electrical avatars of music, or pull giant hammers out of extra-dimensional spaces? What are the conditions for trigging one of these epic battles? Is there a cheat sheet for finding out what abilities you gain? Are there penalties for using the powers frivolously? Like, say, someone grabs the last bag of chips at the store, and you challenge them to a duel, beat them up, explode them in to change, and then you take the change and the chips. Then the police come and arrest you, or do they duel you,? Man, the Pilgrim-verse would be a weeeeeeeiiiiiiiird place to live.

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