Comic-Con #5: The 'Scott Pilgrim' Panel

Luke Y Thompson is covering the Con for Deadline:

Universal is spending a lot of money to make SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD the talk of Comic-Con. There’s an interactive exhibit at the Gaslamp Hilton, multiple screenings of the movie itself, and almost everyone from the cast on the panel in Hall H, and we mean EVERYONE – 13 panelists in all. I question whether this is a smart strategy. The quirky Canadian manga-styled comic about a  twentysomething bassist who engages in videogame-style battles with the “evil exes” of his dreamgirl clearly has rabid fans, judging by the number of people in costume and the loudness of their cheers. They would pay to see it, yet Universal seems determined to show it to all of them for free this week. So then who will pay when it opens in theaters? Or do we assume the fans are so rabid they will be repeat ticket-buyers?

Director Edgar Wright comes out to intro the panel, saying it was love at first sight when he read the comic in 2004. He shows a brief video that indicates how frame-for-frame accurate some of the shot compositions are to the comic. And he has a big announcement: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD will be in 2-D, at regular ticket prices.

The entire cast comes out one by one, and Wright does a running joke where he asks them for one-word answers to save time. Then, a surprise: “Also appearing in this film, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost!” Wright’s regular starring twosome come out to huge applause, at which point the director says, “Sorry, that should have read ‘not appearing in this film: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.’” They exit, in mock shame.

Comic creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, when asked who inspired him, responds “I think I inspired myself, ’cause I’m a super-genius. Yay!”

The one actor not here? Chris Evans, who’s busy shooting CAPTAIN AMERICA. But here’s the star of SCOTT PILGRIM, who auditioned for Captain America, and made the final 500 – Michael Cera!

Cera comes out in a dorky, over-padded Captain America costume. He sells the pathos of it well.

Brandon Routh is asked to compare his role as a super-villainous evil ex to Superman. “You can’t really choose between Superman and any other character.”

Is Cera afraid of typecasting? “So much, yeah.” He loved getting in shape for the fight scenes, but notes, remorsefully, that “it was a long time ago.” Stunbt team actually referred to him as “Nmikey the push-up king.” He’d like to see an ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT movie but has no news to share on the topic.

For a scene where Kieran Culkin (as Scott’s gay roommate) had to kiss Cera, Wright prepared him by surprising him with a kiss one day.

Though the movie is set and shot in Toronto, at one point, in an ironic tax break situation, there were talks about shooting New York for Toronto.

At this point, we were invited to walk with Wright to the Balboa theater and actually watch the ENTIRE MOVIE. Want a review? Well, if not, maybe you should stop reading onward

I have said in the past that I think Edgar Wright is okay as a director, but somewhat overrated. I feel the same about Michael Cera sometimes. But this shows both of them at a new level.

The movie isn’t perfect for a non-fan. It’s strange to find myself saying this, but I could have used a couple fights less. At a certain point, you start doing the math. “Wait, he’s fought three evil exes, so that means there are still FOUR to go? Oh, thank God two of them are twins and he can fight both at once. And the final one is nearby.” It would have been less faithful, but I’d have been fine with five evil exes.

SCOTT PILGRIM loosely tells the story of 22 year-old Scott, who starts the movie by dating a high-schooler bizarrely and inexplicably named “Knives.” Because this is a quirky universe, I buy it. It’s not like THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, where, in a realistic drama, you have a kid named Laser and nobody asks why.

Scott’s last ex has become a famous rock star, lead singer in a band called “The Clash at Demonhead.” (Is Joe Strummer turning in his grave right now?) His sister (Anna Kendrick) has a thing for gossiping about all his insecurities. His band, Sex Bob-Omb, are desperate for a break. His gay roommate is tired of sharing the bed.

Then one night, he dreams of purple-haired girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and sees her for real the next day. It’s love at first sight, and we’re just asked to believe that they’re perfect for each other upfront. But later, they do turn out to be a good match – he has arrogantly taken his dating life for granted and never had to actually work for it, while she has had an unstable life and is desperately in need of a nice guy who has it together.

But before he can even seal the deal, Scott gets a death threat email from Matthew Patel, the first of the evil exes, who has the power of Bollywood dance numbers with demons. The seven exes control the future of Ramona’s love life, because they represent her emotional baggage that must be dealt with by any potential suitor. But emotions here become live-action cartoons, filtered through the perspective of a generation who grew up playing video games, watching anime, and listening to ’90s alt-rock (Scott’s initials mirror those on the Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt he wears).

Wright has toyed with live-action video games before, on his TV show SPACED, but here, armed with artful and witty source material, he makes something much more interesting. Visuals were never his strong suit before, but in literalizing the comic he had great storyboards already there. Vaporous letters spell out sound effects, doors in the middle of nowhere unlock the heart, human faces can become emoticons, villains can punch the color out of your hair…oh, and Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr are the Vegan Police (don’t ask).

Even the opening Universal logo and theme get an 8-bit Nintendo-style makeover, while defeated villains dissolve into piles of coins. Pop-culture references make sense in context, rather than serving their own ends – the SEINFELD theme and a laugh track punctuate a sitcom-like dispute, while Chris Evans’ movie star character makes a grand entrance to the Universal theme.

What some will love and some will hate are the major jump cuts that often occur when Scott is not concentrating. I dug them, though found it ironic that a movie so rapid-fire does start to drag just a little in the build up to the climax. In adapating, I think Wright could have made the material a bit more three-act than he has, rather than the seven-level structure. But he does throw in some nice surprises towards the end.

So yes, I liked the movie quite a bit. It’s Wright’s best work by far, and Cera, while still Cera, expands his range just a little bit. It could even become a touchstone of a generation, but let’s not pre-load it with too much baggage. Time will tell.

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