Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Thirty-Seven

Top 50 10s 37

#37 — Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010)

In adapting movies from other works, fidelity to source material can trip up even the most skilled directors. There’s a natural instinct to hew closely to whatever is being transferred to the screen, supposing that its fundamental high quality was the reason it was chosen for adaptation in the first place. And then there’s the added pressure when the original work has a fiercely devoted fan base, ever at the ready to expound on the unquestionable superiority of this story they’ve declared their favorite. But remaining true to the prior creation that is fuel for the new film shouldn’t simply be a matter of moving pieces as intact as possible from one format to another, even when — especially when — the source already combined words and pictures. Instead, a wise filmmaker ascertain what makes the first work special and the avoids duplication, opting instead to discover the equivalent for their chosen medium.

In making the film version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics, which were an outright sensation at the time production got underway, director Edgar Wright takes full and proper advantage of what he found on the page. O’Malley’s overarching plot is brought over more or less intact, and his drawings essentially serve as concept art.  But then Wright, with giddy cunning, applies the vernacular of cinema, figuring out how editing, sound design, off-screen space, split screens, and other elements of film narrative can be employed to mirror O’Malley’s ingenuity in page layout and sequential-art storytelling. Wright draws liberally from comics, video games, and music video, but his Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is decisively and firmly a movie, and it couldn’t conceivably be anything but.

All that film-class pontificating could be misleading, suggesting Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is some sort of meta-narrative, artier-than-thou slog, But Wright’s rambunctious riffing on cinematic style is a fervent expression of love for all the possibilities held within movies. That affection extends to the actors, especially supporting players, many of whom take the turns on screen with popgun burst of playful joy. Michael Cera plays the title character, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is his beloved, who sets Scott on a quest to vanquish her six evil exes in order to win her hand. But are well-cast and full of charm, but the movie truly belongs to fleet of ringers around them: Kieren Culkin, Brie Larson, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, and the invaluable Allison Pill. The script — co-credited to Wright and Michael Bacall — is filled with dandy comic lines, and they’re all delivered with rim-shot precision.

Every little bit that Wright funnels into Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gives it added energy, like creative rocket fuel. The movie races and careens without ever slipping out of its wide, gleaming lane.

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