The Review: Cinema as a medium is threatened, if you believe the popular press. We now prefer to watch movies in our comfy home cinemas and IMAX and 3D are touted as the last hopes of cinema chains keeping people seeing movies where they were meant to be seen. But the thing that will actually keep people coming back is good storytelling, and what the great movies of 2010 are starting to show is that it’s the layers of depth of storytelling, and indeed of many other facets of the production, that will get people engaged and keep them returning.
Edgar Wright’s first two movies have had that feeling of layers, working so well at a broad level but also with the finest details polished and then joined together in often unexpected ways. Other than the obvious directorial touches, though, it’s been difficult to tell exactly who contributed what in the two Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg collaborations, so seamless has the join been. What’s now abundantly clear is that Wright can blend just as seamlessly with the right material of others as well, and has honed from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics something that actually feels a level up (if you’ll pardon the pun) from his first two movies, unlikely as that may seem. Wright’s had a slightly ADD directorial style at times, but one that still fit the vast majority of the material at hand, but here the flourishes are subtle, and ramped up over the course of the running time.
What’s truly inspiring about Scott Pilgrim is how many different cultural themes are composed into the greater structure. Where Shaun took references from the zombie / horror genres and Fuzz raided action movie lockers and thrillers (with a smidgen of horror thrown in), Pilgrim is a love story to video games, comic books and indie / rock music, among others. As Ang Lee’s Hulk proved, translating the visual style of a comic book directly to the screen can go wrong in the best of hands, but the comic book sensibility is retained very effectively, on-screen writing and captions giving a well-structured feel. Somehow, the video game aspects of the comic books form the basis for a visual frame of reference on top of that; as anyone who’s played them will know, keeping your interest is nigh on impossible if you can’t follow what’s happening, but the action is well staged, always clear and progresses effortlessly up through the gears.
Through it all, character development is weaved in effortlessly to the tightly plotted but flowing story, and of course O’Malley’s titanic contributions should not be understated here, having provided much of the meat, but the central pairing characters get to work through as many relationship issues and combinations as a whole Friends box-set, but in a way that feels refreshingly honest and ultimately powerfully cathartic for anyone that’s made any mistakes in the past – which, let’s be honest, should be most of us. That Pilgrim the movie covers so much ground in storytelling terms while successfully mining so many layers of modern culture is nothing short of breathtaking.
The cast, meanwhile are all pitch perfect and uniformly brilliant, but Cera, Winstead and Culkin should all be proud of what they’ve done here. Much is always made of Cera’s seemingly repetitive performances, but he continues the trend of Youth In Revolt of twisting that persona just a little further each time, to winning effect here. Of the exes, Brandon Routh is a twisted highlight but you’ll wish nearly all of them had about three times the amount of screen time, so enjoyable is the company of the characters and the performances. But more than the acting, Wright and his production team have assembled an embarrassment of riches in the craft departments; from musical collaborators including Nigel Godrich and Beck, through Brad Allen’s stunt coordination to Bill Pope’s cinematography, everyone has raised their game and the final product somehow manages to exceed expectations, which started pretty high.
It’s the emotional depth, though, that takes this all the way up to the classic level. By the end you’ll find yourself rooting for the characters and their eventual fates, and there’s a delicious irony that this movie is about growing up when the cultural fabric it’s woven from wants us to remain young at heart for ever. Overall, this is just another affirmation that Edgar Wright, in his own way, ranks alongside Christopher Nolan as one of the finest British directors of our times. Continue? Yes, please.
Why see it at the cinema: Despite all the above, there is one reservation; as with Shaun and Fuzz, there is probably an entry level for required knowledge to get from it as much as I did, in that knowing nothing about video games or comic books that aren’t Spider-Man could hamper your enjoyment here in the same way that not knowing something about zombies or action movie clichés may not allow you get the most from those other movies. But the game-mimicking aspect ratio shifts and extraordinary level of detail really do deserve to be seen on the big screen.
The Score: 10 / 10