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'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' wins the battle

August 17, 2010|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

If you've seen the trailers for "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," you know the film's plot.

Loveable loser Scott (Michael Cera) falls head over heels for the beautiful Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). This does not sit well with Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends, who Scott must defeat one by one to win her heart.

Yes, it's a paper-thin plot, but just as a beautiful picture can be painted on a simple sheet of paper, so can the film take a simple concept and turn it into an incredibly interesting work of art.

There are two types of scenes in the film: fight scenes and scenes that focus on Scott and his relationships.

The relationship between Scott and Ramona progresses as expected, at least as far as falling in love and the subsequent hardship, not in that it's a series of evil exes coming between them.

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A pleasant surprise is a storyline involving the relationship between Scott and his current girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong). Scott wants to leave Knives for Ramona, but Knives is so hopelessly devoted to Scott that this proves to be tricky. I couldn't sympathize with Scott; I liked Knives way more than Ramona.

Cera handles these scenes of this with his usual mannerisms. This will no doubt annoy those who argue that Cera plays the same character in every movie, but it's hard to imagine Scott being played by anyone other than Cera. Scott will go down as a definitive Michael Cera character, while characters in lesser films will be seen as annoying, unwelcome retreads.

As far as the fight scenes, they are among the greatest ever committed to film. In trying to remember the last film that had such great sequences, I arrived at "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (2003). The fights in that film were brilliant, yet sickening.

"Scott Pilgrim" has extremely well-choreographed sequences, but is far less violent. There's still kicking, punching, flipping, falling and swordplay (and musical numbers, even "Kill Bill" didn't have those), but the film is almost completely bloodless. Enemies turn into piles of coins upon defeat. So if your kids can handle Mario, they can handle "Scott Pilgrim."

Speaking of Mario, the defining aspect of the film is the constant video game and comic book references. There are cheesy video game graphics and sound effects absolutely everywhere, even at the Universal logo at the beginning. Video games are something of an obsession for Scott, and sometimes I wondered if all the references are just in his imagination as he copes with what the world throws at him.

Knives shares Scott's video game passion and Ramona doesn't, yet another reason why Knives is more likable than Ramona.

The film is based on a comic book, and it never lets you forget it (especially during flashbacks), but it's a shame that the film only seems like a video game instead of being the first truly great video game adaptation in film history.

Perhaps "truly great" is too strong a term. The film has two failings that ultimately bring it down to the "pretty good" category. The first is the way the film pushes Ramona as a romantic interest instead of Knives. The second is its ending, which promises an eighth and climactic fight scene, only to bail completely as if director Edgar Wright just ran out of special effects money. Know this going in, so you don't accidentally insist on every scene topping the one before it. If you can look past these few minor caveats, "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" is one of the most fun movies of the year.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" is rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language, and drug references.

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