It’s difficult to do justice to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in a review because the movie defies any sort of label. Bouncing merrily from genre to genre, the film is part romance, part comic book caper, part martial-arts action flick, part video game, and part musical. All those parts add up to a sweet, funny, and satisfying experience.
The last time I had a grin plastered to my face for the entire running time of a movie was when I saw 500 Days of Summer. The two films don’t share any subject matter, but in a lot of ways I found them similar. Both are wildly original, quirky, and an utter blast to sit through. 500 Days was released almost exactly a year ago, and quickly became one of my favorite movies of the year.
It looks like Scott Pilgrim will follow the same trajectory. It was all I could do not to skip out of the theater.
Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a twenty-something slacker who plays guitar in a Toronto band called Sex-Bob-Omb and hangs out with his friends a lot. With a lanky frame, a high pitched voice, and a mop of hair that refuses to obey his wishes, Pilgrim is hardly a lady killer. But, you know, he’s in a band, so he’s got that going for him.
He opts for a chaste relationship with an adoring high-school cutie instead of pursuing anything real or messy. One night he spies a girl across the club from him sporting violet locks and a goth/punk vibe. POW! It’s game over for Pilgrim, who is hopelessly enamored of the captivating girl.
As Pilgrim pursues Ramona Flowers (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead,) he discovers that she has had quite the string of suitors. He must defeat seven of her evil exes if he wishes to stay alive, and win her heart.
Each challenger is introduced as a new level on a video game, and fight sequences are accented with video game sound effects and retro graphics. Hand to hand combat is pervasive, and when a punch connects with its intended target, giant comic graphics spell out words like “POW”, “WHAM”, and the like. The result is a fully immersive experience; you actually feel like you are watching a graphic novel come to life.
Mark Vaughn’s Kick-Ass utilized this effect to a minimal degree, mainly when Hit Girl’s back story is being told, but this is much, much different. Every scene in the movie has little comic book touches, right down to the font of the screen graphics. Quite simply, it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film.
It’s the perfect melding of fanciful artistic touches and beautifully edited film. It’s like taking a ride at Disneyland, right from your theater seat.
Director Edgar Wright has built up quite a base of fans with his previous efforts, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I am now convinced of the man’s genius. Scott Pilgrim is so jam packed with pop culture references, it feels like a love letter to pop culture junkies such as myself. I regret that I have only seen the movie once before reviewing it, there are so many little things to catch in every frame, you can’t possibly take it in during one measly viewing.
Wright has a real knack for dialogue, and his screenplay is snappy, witty, and smart.
The movie is a real casting coup, as well. Say what you will about Cera, but he was born to play this role. I felt a little trepidation about Cera being able to convincingly tackle the physical aspects of the film, but damned if he didn’t sell it, wearing a goofy Elmer Fudd hat all the while.
If I had one complaint about the film, it would be with Ramona’s character. I haven’t read the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, but the film doesn’t really flesh out the character enough for us to understand why all these people would fight to the death for Ramona. She’s cute and all, but she seems self absorbed and undeserving of all this devotion. I suppose that Winstead does an okay job with the role, but I wasn’t convinced of her appeal.
A strong supporting cast includes Mae Whitman (who played Cera’s girlfriend on Arrested Development), Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Ellen Wong, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman.
Evans indulges in a self referential wink to audiences by playing an “action hero” movie star ex of Ramona. He hams it up with a Christian Bale Batman voice and cocky swagger. Brandon Routh is hilarious as a pompous vegan, and Jason Schwartzman is spot-on as the slimeball ex.
It’s been said that this movie can only be enjoyed by the generation under thirty, brought up playing video games. I assure you, being a woman of a certain age and a gaming virgin, I still loved it. I left Scott Pilgrim exhilarated and quite content to be a pop culture nerd.