We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Amiable bass-playing slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has fallen head over heels for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The only catch? He has to defeat her seven evil exes
If ever a film was guaranteed not to disappoint its target audience, it was surely Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. The critically-acclaimed source text is matched to a director whose creative vision, aesthetic and cultural tastes mirror the original author's so completely you find yourself wondering if they are, in fact, the same person. For while Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright's collaborations with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jessica Stevenson may have seemed more deeply personal (particularly the home-town-set Hot Fuzz), he couldn't make a film more Edgar Wright-ish than Pilgrim if he spent the rest of his career trying.
Visually, Pilgrim is an astonishing blend of three distinct styles. The world of the film is filtered through Scott's video-game-loving mind (so the end-of-level "bosses", level-up statistics and 1-UPs of certain much-loved computer games all play a part), while the manga-inspired feel of Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic is transposed onto the screen in the form of the giant sound effects and movement lines that litter the action (a gimmick that feels a shade annoying after the first few times, but which you'll barely notice by the end). And the whole thing is shot through with the quick-cuts and inventive framing that Wright's been doing since 'Spaced'. For fans of any or all of these three aesthetics, it's nirvana. But with the ready-made audience of fanboy hordes come all the potential pitfalls of adapting such a beloved series of books - the most notable being the simple mathematics of fitting six books' worth of story into a single film.
Still, that the film gets away with foregoing any sort of traditional three-act structure is a testament to the assured, exhilarating style that's long-since become Wright's trademark. Despite cramming in six fights that would each serve as a commendable climax to many films in their own right, the viewer is swept along on a frantic rush of adrenaline throughout. Pausing for thought would betray that in most cases, the battles come along without anything like the build-up offered by the books - but in the moment, each is an inspired musical-style set-piece with its own inventive and unexpected resolution.
Instead, the aspect that suffers the most from the need to fit in all seven exes turns out to be the film's ability to juggle, and give weight to, its protagonists. O'Malley's terrific array of supporting characters are generally superbly portrayed - particularly Kieran Culkin's Wallace and Alison Pine's Kim, both of whom seem to have stepped right off the comic page, and get most of the best lines - but in terms of screen time and development they're almost all given short shrift. This even extends to the leads - Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are themselves appealing, but they're fighting underwritten parts, and viewers not familiar with the books may find themselves wondering why Scott doesn't just go off with ex-girlfriend Knives Chau (who arguably gets a far better character arc than Ramona) instead.
That said, there are ways in which the film improves on the source material - one scene spins out an idea from the final book and interprets it in a more satisfying way, while another adds an aural gag that's entirely within the spirit of the comic but could only work on the screen. Indeed, it may not be quite up there with Shaun of the Dead, but Pilgrim certainly maintains Wright's strike rate of never having made a film that's anything less than hilarious throughout. It's only a shame that in throwing so much at the screen - we include an utterly exquisite soundtrack in that too - it seems destined to come off as haphazard and over-chaotic for viewers who don't happen to buy in to its unique perspective on the world. But if the sound of the Street Fighter II "KO!" voice sends you into raptures, it's pretty much the best film ever made. Wright's hyper-kinetic vision is a joy throughout, and wickedly funny; but the script slightly lacks the heart of the original comics.
Kinetic pop-culture bliss for video-gaming slacker 20-somethings, and indeed anybody in tune with that world. Edgar Wright can rest easy knowing he's done the original comics as much justice as anybody could have hoped.
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