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SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is many things: a comic book movie, a romantic comedy, the action-musical Vincente Minnelli never directed after taking ecstasy for the first time, and so on. It is a film rife with influences, yet wholly original. And there's never been a movie like it because Edgar Wright didn't bother to make it until now. Though the basic concept of Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-part graphic novel - boy-meets-girl, boy-gets girl, girl-introduces-boy-to-seven-evil-ex-boyfriends-whom-he-must-fight-to-the-death - might sound cinematic, the saga unfolds on the page in a deliriously cartoonish and digressive manner that seems better suited to animation than live action: characters explode into coins, flash from apathy in one panel to violent rage in the next, and absorb Wile E. Coyote amounts of physical punishment. All possible via CG and clever editing, but how to indulge these hyperreal whims without sacrificing the emotional resonance that makes O'Malley's work worth reading (and filming) in the first place? Wright may be the only director working today with the skill set to wring pathos from material this precariously superficial; he did it for two seasons on SPACED (a show as poignant as it is stuffed with pop-culture non sequiturs), and then - with co-conspirators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost - crafted a heartfelt ode to friendship in the face of a zombie apocalypse with SHAUN OF THE DEAD. He speaks for the distracted generation that frittered away their youth zoning in front of MTV for hours on end, navigating fantastic 8-bit worlds via the NES, gorging on comic books, and watching whatever was on HBO because it was on. Wright connects by accessing these shared memories, but he reaches well beyond nostalgia to an understanding of how this mass consumption of media fooled us all into believing we're living "The Hero's Journey". Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the perfect character through whom to examine this phenomenon: he's a scrawny, unexceptional twenty-three-year-old with a solipsistic worldview and an unintentional disregard for the feelings of others. There's nothing remotely noble about Scott: he plays bass adequately for the struggling Toronto-area garage band Sex Bob-omb, freeloads off his gay friend Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and proudly avoids a steady job. Emotionally, he's kind of like a sixteen-year-old girl - which partially explains why he's taken up with high-schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). But Scott is also using Knives to boost his ego after suffering a devastating break-up with Envy Adams (Brie Larson), who's gone on to pop stardom as the lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead. At this supremely unsettled point in his life, Scott's not after a girlfriend; he's looking for someone to worship him like his peers now worship Envy. No one could be less deserving of a monomyth than Scott, but he's at the center of one because everyone believes they're due a monomyth nowadays. It's the perk/curse of growing up in the post-STAR WARS age: when George Lucas harnessed the power of Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, he inspired a legion of filmmakers to follow suit with their own tales of physically-unintimidating underdogs answering the call to adventure; soon, video game designers did likewise, but with a participatory hook. All of this represented a new, more persuasive form of escapism for impressionable young audiences - and with the advent of VCRs, round-the-clock cable broadcasts and home gaming systems, kids could be immersed in these fantasies for hours on end, to the extent that, when they deigned to re-enter the real world, they couldn't help but think in terms of archetypes, plot points, levels, life bars and bosses*. Hence O'Malley's clever conceit: when Scott's dream girl, the irresistibly insouciant Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), roller-skates into his life, our spaghetti-armed protagonist is thrust into a waking STREET FIGHTER nightmare wherein he must literally go toe-to-toe with her romantic baggage - i.e. The League of Evil Exes. It's a silly notion, but, again, it's in keeping with the STAR WARS/Nintendo generation's tendency to attack every mundane obstacle as if it's a Herculean labor. The only difference is that Scott lives in this Mitty-ish delusion twenty-four-seven; when Evil Ex #1 Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) crashes through the roof of a Toronto club seeking satisfaction, all of it - including the impromptu Bollywood number with demon hipster chicks - is real. There's no snapping back to reality; Scott must either kill or be killed. As to the question of Scott's likability, if he doesn't begin this journey as a feckless dweeb then the whole purpose of the film would be undermined. There's been an appalling trend in romantic comedies lately to write male leads as weak and worshipful [Exhibit A: (500) DAYS OF SUMMER], and Wright is clearly cognizant of this. Taking his cue from O'Malley, Wright portrays Scott's puppy-dog courtship of Ramona as a grandly pathetic spectacle - ditto his spineless dumping of Knives after he takes up with Ramona (the aftermath, viewed in a scrolling series of panels scored to T-Rex's "Teenage Dream", is a spot-on expression of post-break-up anguish). Scott is no prize. And if you're complaining that no woman worth getting on the planet would be into Scott, you're not paying attention: for Ramona, Scott's the pushover rebound from the manipulative Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman); for teeny-bopper Knives, Scott's the bassist in a garage band. That he lacks strength is the point. He's an aimless shell of a kid who must taste his own blood - or get his life bar knocked down to "critical" - to become a man. And bitching that Michael Cera is too unassertive for the role of Scott Pilgrim is akin to grousing that Lee Marvin should've played Ash in THE EVIL DEAD: Scott is a spindly dork who learns to stand up for himself and others; if he's too capable in the early going, the character has absolutely nowhere to go. By successfully infusing a John Hughes tale of young love with the decadence of a technicolor musical and the balletic fury of a Shaw Brothers kung-fu saga, Wright has delivered in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD one of the most daringly idiosyncratic studio movies I've ever seen. It's unclassifiable as genre, aesthetically unprecedented, and an utter joy to watch. Though Wright hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, employed any trailblazing techniques in the lensing and editing of this film, he's used an inventive variety of formats and f/x to capture the mercurial temperament of O'Malley's graphic novels. It's a near-chaotic blend at times, but there's nothing undisciplined in his approach: the choreography and composition of each combat sequence is precise, while the more audacious flourishes - the split-screens, the aspect ratio shifts, etc. - are always emotionally motivated. This is what Warren Beatty tried to convey with DICK TRACY, and what Mario Bava occasionally got across in DANGER: DIABOLIK; it's as close to a live-action comic book as we're likely to see. Even if you can't get on its wavelength (there have already been a number of Bosley Crowther-ish dismissals), there's no denying it's a masterfully crafted film. It's also one of the few movies about young love that manages to end on an optimistic note without insisting on a happily-ever-after outcome. The final scene is phrased as a question - "Continue?" - and it's one each viewer will answer differently. Based on who's taking the lead through the subspace highway, I'm pessimistic, but that's okay. Scott and Ramona are still in their early twenties. This typically isn't the relationship that binds; it's the one that builds. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD finds Edgar Wright at a similar juncture. He's broken with his past and made a movie that bears zero resemblance to his collaborations with Pegg and Frost. This may be Bryan Lee O'Malley's universe, but the cinematic vocabulary belongs 100-percent to the director, and it's startlingly clear he's been holding back. Wright's dazzling us with an array of punch-kick, form-and-content combinations that would send Eisenstein sprawling; like Scorsese, De Palma and Tarantino, he's borrowing from the masters and creating his own language. In this age of edit-suite hacks, a visionary like Wright might just save the medium - provided he's not seduced into making banal event movies. Maybe I want to see his ANT-MAN. I know want to see his BLOW OUT. "Continue?" As long as he's channeling his boundless talents into the latter? Fuck. Yes. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

*You're welcome, mom!

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