Scott Pilgrim vs. the World | rated PG-13 (A,L,V) | starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieren Culkin, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Anna Kendrick | directed by Edgar Wright | 1:55 mins
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the base player for a 3-person garage band with a questionable love life that now stars a 17-year-old high school student. That is, until he meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious and aloof girl who immediately steals his heart. It turns out Ramona has a lot of baggage in the form of 7 evil exes who have formed a league intent on fighting any future romantic prospects to the death, and the league now sets it’s sights squarely on Scott Pilgrim.
With Spider-Man, Batman and the X-Men done, it’s forced the Hollywood distributors allergic to original screenplays to delve into the back of the bin for the more obscure comic book works and the results, so far, have been interesting and exciting. First, Lionsgate gave us the terrific Kick-Ass and now Universal with co-writer/director Edgar Wright bring to life Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright has not made a bad movie yet. Like his previous films, the instant cult classic British parodies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pilgrim is a bombastic fireball of energy. It’s just as fast, but far more surreal and purely metaphorical than Shaun or Fuzz. And dare I say it but it’s consistently funnier than it’s distinctly Brit-com older siblings. Hilarious even.
Above everything, Pilgrim is a spectacular showcase of Wright’s visual imagination. He treats the film as his canvas for a barrage of visual bits, jokes and effects that really do add to the humor (in the way Zombieland‘s motion graphics did) and beg you to keep your finger over a pause button to catch them all. We’re talking about the sound effect descriptions found in comic books brought into the live action world. Ding Dong floating across the screen when the doorbell rings. Someone puts a gun to their head and the word Bang pops out the other side. He fills the screen with them, but instead of sensory overload he twists them, pays them off and generally keeps them fresh the entire 2 hour movie.
The characters in Pilgrim are ironically self-aware, continually breaking the fourth wall by acknowledging the absurdity of the film-making style before them as if it is perfectly normal. Wright’s bag of trick here seems endless. Staging the fight scenes to reference 80s arcade games and Japanese anime. Characters die and explode into quarters, pull flaming swords from their chest and possess telekinetic powers due to a healthy vegan diet (possibly the funniest scene in a movie full of funny scenes). Wright throws every reference and the kitchen sink he can think of, at one point trafficking in a sitcom laugh track, at another throwing Scott Pilgrim to unimaginable heights or through a brick wall.
In retrospect, the casting of deadpan Michael Cera was a perfect choice for the movie’s geeky focal point to offset the craziness. It wouldn’t work had our hero been just as lively as the world around him. This is a slightly different awkward nerd Cera here, this is the Cera who isn’t aware he’s a nerd, thinks he’s quite a stud and comes off quite the jerk. Early and often, it’s Kieren Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate who steals the movie. The one thing that didn’t work for me in Scott Pilgrim: the love story. Essentially the entire reason for fighting the league of evil exes. I never bought Ramona as anything other than a cold, fickle, oddly experienced oddity. Like Summer in (500) Days of Summer, who would probably toss Scott aside for the next guy on the street even if he conquered all the evil exes. But Cera’s love-sick Pilgrim makes it work. Even if you don’t believe it, you believe that he believes it.
The movie makes no real world, cause-and-effect sense, grounded only by a metaphorical level to the frenetic light show. It hilariously breaks all the rules. It tells a story of relationship baggage and feelings of inadequacy through the prism of a video game. Chasing Amy meets Street Fighter. With all of the bad video-game based movies out there giving video games a bad name, it was a blast to see a movie that so lovingly embraces the pixelated 8-bit generation of arcade games, making clever use of some of their signature visual elements to bring to the silver screen a unique movie-going experience. The best game-themed movie since The King of Kong. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is an utterly charming, endlessly inventive treat of pure cinematic surrealism. One of the most purely entertaining movies of the year.