All things considered, I think it’s fair to say that this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was Scott Pilgrim’s show.
Not only did the convention coincide with the release of the sixth and final graphic novel in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series, “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour,” but there was an incredible amount of anticipation and promotion for Edgar Wright’s film version, which hits theaters on August 13. The Bayfront Hilton was draped in a massive version of the poster that covered a good ten floors, buses were decked out in ads, “The Scott Pilgrim Experience” was happening across the street from the convention center — you couldn’t get away from it.Bigger than those, though, were the actual screenings of the film. Fans waited in line for hours for it, and as one of the perks of the Fourth Estate, I managed to get in and see it myself. The short version is that I thought it was great, but for the longer version, I’ve got my ten thoughts on the movie.
1. Edgar Wright gets it. And I don’t just mean that he gets “Scott Pilgrim”; he gets the relationship between comics and film, and how they’re two distinct media that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of sequences and sight gags that Wright lifts directly from the page, but others are modified, eliminated and replaced with things that make a better visual on the screen.This, for me, was one of the most important aspects of the movie. As much as the idea of being faithful to the source material is important to the comics-reading audience — which is made up almost entirely of people who get crazy emotionally invested in the things they like — it’s more important to be faithful to the source material’s themes and feelings. The fight against Lucas Lee, for instance, is one of my favorite parts of the movie despite the fact that it bears almost no resemblance to the way it happens in the comics. It’s structured as big joke about movies withina movie rather than a slavish adaptation, and it’s pulled off very well.It’s true to the themes while taking advantage of the medium.
2. At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from being based on a comic, either. For one thing, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art (or at least a reasonable simulacrum) is all over this thing, and for another, the movie’s full of comics-related visual cues — ditto for video games — from shots that mimic panel borders and layout to stuff like sound effects, motion lines and the big impact bursts we’ve all seen in the trailers, and what’s amazing about it is that it all actually works. It’s a testament to how much thought Wright put into it that these elements (which would stick out like a poorly rendered sore thumb if they weren’t done well) are integrated into the shots.
3. It’s very, very compressed. Unlike the comics, which take place over the course of a little over a year, the movie compresses it all into about a week. It adds a frenetic pace to the whole thing that fits well with the subject, especially in the way that Wright handles it as far as cuts and scene transitions; there’s a scene change essentially every time someone turns around or opens a door. There’s a part of this that I really liked, in that Scott ends up fighting three of the Exes in one night, one right after another, which not only helps to move the story along at a nice clip, but leads Scott and Ramona to an emotional breaking point. The feeling is really there of things just getting piled onto this guy, and it all moves fast.
4. Unfortunately, it loses a lot of characterization in the process. For fans of the comics, the movie’s biggest flaw is that it lacks the depth of the graphic novels, which — again — is a pretty unavoidable side effect of boiling a thousand pages of comics down into a two hour movie. You lose stuff like Knives’ dad completely, but it’s not a huge deal most of the time; Wright and Michael Bacall’s script and Wright’s direction is pretty economical in terms of getting across everything you absolutely need to know about the characters, albeit often in scenes where people talk so fast that it makes “The Gilmore Girls” look like Leon Redbone.
It does, however, have a pretty huge impact on the character of Envy Adams. She’s completely unsympathetic in the movie, and while it works, she functions more as a spectre of Scott’s past (although not nearly as developed as it could’ve been to make her a true parallel to Ramona’s exes) than as a fully realized character. Again: Unavoidable, but a shame, as she’s the key to one of the more interesting aspects of the book.
5. Michael Cera? Not bad. His biggest sin is that he’s inconsistent, but the opening sequence and his spastic bass playing, the delivery of his lines when he’s yelling at Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram, his interactions with Chris Evans, the fights, and even a lot of the scenes where he pulls off Scott’s cockiness are downright perfect, and well outweigh the scenes where he’s just “good” and not “spectacular.”Cera’s sort of been pegged over the past few years as playing awkward (and there’s no shortage of awkwardness in the character of Scott Pilgrim), but like anyone who’s seen “Clark and Michael” knows, he does a lot of his best work when he’s playing angry and frustrated, and that’s where he really shines here.
6. Everyone else? Amazing. Seriously, the cast here is absolutely incredible. Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), Julie (Aubrey Plaza), and Knives (Ellen Wong) might as well have just walked right off the page, Kieran Culkin’s Wallace is at the center of some of the movie’s best gags, and while I mentioned that the character herself suffers, Brie Larson’s breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque portrayal of Envy Adams is perfect for what she does in the movie.The show is completely stolen by the Evil Exes, though. They’re perfect, every one of ’em, but Schwartzman, Routh and Evans are incredible standouts. Evans especially just owns his entire scene, chewing scenery in a way that genuinely looks like he’s having so much fun that it’s impossible to not have fun watching him.
Also, Mae Whitman gives Roxy Richter, who is from North Carolina, a truly hilarious Southern Accent that, as a South Carolinian, I appreciated on a deep and abiding level.
7. The fights are awesome. If there’s one thing we learned about Edgar Wright from “Shaun of the Dead,” it’s that he’s a dude who has seen a lotof action movies, and now he’s made one with some of my favorite fight scenes in years. The fights themselves were coordinated by Peng Zhang, who did stunts and wirework for “Transporter 2,” among other films.As much as “Scott Pilgrim” is about the characters and their relationships, the fights are probably the most important thing visually, and I imagine that the challenge here was also one one of the most fun aspects: Everything had to be insanely over the top to reflect the video game and comic book sources they were drawing from, and again, they do it. The fights are fun, littered with video game references (I will seriously never get tired of the big “KAAYYYYY OHHHHHH!” voice showing up to accompany a slow motion haymaker), and most importantly, they’re clever.
As good as they are, Wright and Zhang don’t rely on just kung-fu throwdowns for everything; the Twins and Brandon Routh are handled in completely new, unexpected and highly enjoyable ways, and Scott’s and Ramona’s fight with Roxy is an absolute joy. Which brings me to my next point.
8. This is an action movie that treats women like action stars. It’s not just that Roxy, Ramona and Knives are all fighters, but that they’re fighters that are put on equal standing with the male stars. They fight dudes. They rescue Scott. They have the same kind of “I just got punched in the face but now I’m totally okay so let’s fight more” action movie resilience as the guys, and that’s kind of a huge deal.
9. The soundtrack’s great.And I don’t just mean the songs (although they’re awesome), but the actual use of musical cues in the movie itself. As you might expect, Wright pulls in a ton of video game sound effects and actually manages to use them with a bit of subtlety, and there are some really unexpected audio gags thrown in as well.
10. The audience LOVED it. Two things to keep in mind here: One, I saw it at the San Diego Comic-Con with people who had been in line for hours in a room that also had Edgar Wright and most of the cast, so this was already an audience that was predisposed to liking what they were going to see. Two, the reaction at the con isn’t always an example of how it’ll go over with a wider audience. Just ask the makers of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”
But when I saw it, there were cheers for the fights, laughs for the jokes and applause for the actors, Wright, and O’Malley that were damn near deafening, and I’ve got to say that from where I was sitting, the people had a pretty good reason to be excited.