I hate to break it to you guys, but you will never see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with a better audience than the one I was with tonight. But seriously-- one of the first-ever official screenings of the movie happened at San Diego Comic Con, barely an hour after the film's packed Hall H panel, and for a comics-savvy audience so familiar with the source material that they cheered louder during the credits for Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley than they did for star Michael Cera.
It's no surprise that the Scott Pilgrim movie--by all accounts a very faithful adaptation of O'Malley's six-part series-- thrilled the fans who gathered to see it. But I'm here to tell you that Scott Pilgrim plays well beyond the hype, an enormous burst of energy and imagination that both plays with every cinematic convention we know of and re-invents the form entirely. Director Edgar Wright has proven with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz that he has a perfect understanding of genre and filmmaking language, but Scott Pilgrim is something newer and wilder, totally different from what he's done before but also a natural step forward. It's not a perfect movie-- the ending is rushed, and the serialized graphic novel doesn't lend itself well to a three-act structure in general-- but man oh man, does it have a lot to offer.
Despite how much you think you've seen in the movie's endless promotional campaign, Scott Pilgrim feels brand new from the opening scene, employing inventive editing techniques, comic book-style dialogue bubbles and video game logic all the in the same frame-- it might seem ADD to older generations, but people who grew up on Mario and Zelda will be instantly on board. The world Scott Pilgrim lives in is like nothing you've seen, in which fantasies melt seamlessly into reality, dream girls run through your mind because it's a convenient superhighway, and a large-scale battle against an evil ex-boyfriend is just the next part of the evening's entertainment at a local rock club. Much of this comes from O'Malley's original graphic novels, which Wright clearly reveres, but we've seen countless examples of comic book logic failing to translate to the screen. The actual genius of Scott Pilgrim is its supreme confidence, pulling off edits and scene changes and even characters that you would have thought impossible before you walked into the film.
It's not going to work for everyone. Scott Pilgrim is opening against The Expendables, and plenty of moviegoers will opt for the easy shoot-'em-up instead of the challenging, utterly inventive comic book/video game hybrid movie, which they can assume is just for nerds. Sure, it's totally a movie for nerds-- video game and comic experts alike will be rewarded with constant references, and every character is some sort of nerdy/geeky/goofy kid who'd never stand a chance in a standard Hollywood film. But Scott Pilgrim is, simply, exhilarating, for anyone willing to buy into its wild imagination . It's a new way to make movies at a time when other media, like comics and video games, can fairly mimic the best things mainstream cinema has to offer. It's a perfect hybrid of all the storytelling media that matter to this generation, or at least the cross-section here in San Diego right now. It's youth culture distilled. For the audience who saw it here and who will tell their friends, it's surely an instant classic.
At the same time, I think Edgar Wright has done better-- the story falls flat in the middle, and the gigantic cast speaks more to the serialized graphic novels than a movie that's big enough to hold all of them. Even with so much going on visually, it's possible to get bored as Scott deals with his next video game-inspired battle. But if it weren't for Inception, Scott Pilgrim would be the most imaginative and transporting film I'd seen all year. It's doubtlessly a landmark in movies based on comic books, and hopefully will help redefine the boundaries where the panel page ends and the film begins. Not every movie can pull off the fluid genre mixing that Scott Pilgrim does, but if any of them even try, we'll have movie much more adventurous and flat-out entertaining than we're used to.
Scott Pilgrim probably won't fly with older critics--they'll argue it's too shallow, too silly, too obsessed with pop culture references to mean anything on its own-- but I suspect anyone young enough to grow up with video games will feel an instant connection. Lucky for Wright and Universal, the studio that has practically covered all of San Diego with Scott Pilgrim posters, that young audience makes up most moviegoers. If the Con audience tells their friends, and their friends tell theirs, Scott Pilgrim--flaws and all-- might stand a chance at becoming a generational milestone. People outside of the insular world of Comic Con just need to be willing to take the risk.
(Below, the entire Scott Pilgrim cast, including Edgar Wright, takes the stage after the screening. They're all beaming, in case you can't tell.)
For an alternate take on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World read Mack Rawden's review.