Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Wright, 2010)

British director Edgar Wright owes more to friends/lead actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost than most people are willing to admit. The trio teamed up on the hilarious if not problematic ode to the zombie film Shawn of the Dead and reached new jubilant heights with the anarchic action mayhem of Hot Fuzz. But Pegg and Frost are completely absent from Wright’s new film, the highly anticipated comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a technologically ambitious but ultimately hollow fusion of video game iconography and romance conventions. The material sways toward a younger generation, so it’s not surprising Pegg and Frost weren’t involved in Scott Pilgrim. But their clumsy charm could have at least given the film a beating human heart, something stars Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the rest of the young cast consistently fail to personify.

Countless cinephiles and film critics have boarded the film’s gravy train, buying into Wright’s mash-up of multiple genre aesthetics that combine dynamic visuals with cutting edge special effects. But most writers have failed to bring up the film’s disingenuous vision of young romantic relationships, scenarios hat are completely eroded within a superficial virtual reality. The problems begin and end with Scott’s (Cera) absurdly narcissistic personality and his brazenly dense treatment of others throughout the fantastical narrative. With each battle sequence, ironic non-sequiter, and flimsy one-liner, Wright celebrates Scott’s egomania, only retreating from it during the lame, tacked-on denouement.

Scott Pilgrim’s world, like many twenty-somethings, revolves completely around himself. Selfishness, compromise, and uncertainty are a way of life, but Wright cannot reconcile Scott’s spastic behavior as a bridge to something more mature. By the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World it seems Scott and Ramona (Winstead) will invariably be linked by their own superfluous attitude toward the gamer existence, disavowing tangible consequences and ramifications until the bitter end. It’s a maddening thematic phase that seems endless, pointing the film in a sarcastic, snooty direction that goes against the “evolutions of character” each fight sequence supposedly represents.

If anything, Pegg and Frost give Wright’s previous film’s a soul, a hook to latch onto while their exercises in extreme genre revisionism run free. But Scott Pilgrim doesn’t contain any semblance of humanity, and these characters are merely surface-level entities geeking out on the same wavelength. All the jump cuts, tracking shots, and hipster music cues can’t hide this glaring emptiness, and it’s startling most have given the film a pass in this regard. Scott Pilgrim’s experiences are supposed to metaphorically represent a complex, nuanced relationship between the ultimate man-child and his dream girl within the confines the video game universe, but Wright and co. completely eliminate the small, tender moments that end up defining such a connection. All we’re left with is 8-bit pomp and circumstance, a nostalgic trip down video game alley where the love of an indulgent nerd is just a click away.

Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)

I grew up loving Action films, specifically the cheesy cop flicks of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The appeal for such an impressionable mind must have been the visceral thrill of seeing men with guns duke it out over landscapes of steel and metal, blood splatter and smoke filling the air. These American films provide the heart and soul of Brit comedy filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz, a glossy, exciting, and extremely funny homage to a genre drenched in seriousness. Hot Fuzz begins with a short but catchy lineage of Officer Nicholas Angel (Pegg), London’s most efficient and stern officer of the law. Angel’s so good, his department heads (Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, and Bill Nighly), transfer him to a peaceful village named Sanford, simply because he’s making them look bad. Angel, quite used to the high paced pursuit lifestyle of London, becomes thrust into a calm, whimsical country town where nothing bad ever happens. Wright deftly plays up these initial awkward moments between Angel and the folks of Sandford, specifically his fellow officers of the law. Nick Frost (Pegg’s buddy in Shaun of the Dead), plays Angel’s partner Danny, a large man in love with every cop movie ever made (he’s got DVD collection to die for). When people start dying “accidentally” around town, Angel’s senses kick in and the hunt is on for the killer. Hot Fuzz ends up reveling in all the cliches and cheesy trademarks of the Action films it references, most notably Point Break and Bad Boys II. Danny asks Angel if he’s fired multiple guns while jumping through the air, or if he’s raised his gun in anger and fired off a clip because he can’t kill the criminal he adores. It’s as if every kid weaned on Terminator 2, Hard Target, Commando, and Hard-boiled is asking the questions as well, picking the brain of a real cop with great prestige. It’s in the blissful reconfiguring of locale and situation within these preconceived genre traits which makes Hot Fuzz such a great experience. The final action sequence, an epic gun battle shot and choreographed as if it were a Michael Bay film, exceeds most action films in terms of blocking and ambition. Hot Fuzz turns out to be just as exciting as any of the films it’s paying tribute to, but has layers of meaning well beyond the typical surface level gun play. As Nicholas and Danny begin to uncover the truths about this supposedly quiet town, so does the viewer see that Hot Fuzz takes pride in honestly developing character and emotion even as the action hits the fan. Hot Fuzz surpasses the first Wright/Pegg/Frost collaboration Shaun on all fronts, not only by loving the genre being dissected, but showcasing a real flare for the understanding of why the genre works in the first place. Hot Fuzz comedically riffs the serious components of the Action film, but it loves them as well, and the result masterfully combines the two in a balls to the wall extravaganza of guns, laughs, and true friendship. Here comes the Fuzz motherfu@$%…