Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is possibly my perfect ideal of a summer movie. If energetic, video game-style action and near-seizure-inducing visuals aren’t your cup of tea, this film certainly isn’t going to convert you. But if you’ve enjoyed Edgar Wright’s past action-comedy romps (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), and hearing the sweet chime of Sonic the Hedgehog collecting another golden ring makes you smirk with nostalgia, Scott Pilgrim will provide you with two hours of breezy escapism.
Based on the comic book series of the same name by Bryan Lee O’Malley (paid direct homage in a series of hand-drawn flashbacks), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World follows the trials of its eponymous hero (Michael Cera) as he battles for the love of the girl of his dreams (Ramona Flowers, played with multiple Kate Winslet-esque hair dye jobs by Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As the trailers may have made clear to you, the battle I refer to is no metaphorical clash of hearts and minds; this is a full-scale war between Scott and Ramona’s League of Evil Exes, seven jilted old flames who will do everything in their (considerable, often supernatural) power to make sure Ramona never ends up with a nice guy like Scott.
Not that Scott is exactly the picture of perfection. When he first runs into Ramona, the 22 year-old Scott is already dating a high schooler, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), much to the mild annoyance of his gay roommate (Kieran Culkin), his younger sister (Anna Kendrick) and his bandmates in the fledgling indie rock group, the Sex Bob-ombs (Alison Pill and Mark Webber). Knives’ adoration for Scott seems to serve as an ego-booster after his last girlfriend, Natalie (Brie Larson) dumped him immediately prior to becoming the next big thing in Canadian pop music (did I mention we’re in Toronto?). The hilariously ubiquitous character Julie (Aubrey Plaza), who hates Scott’s guts, hints at a fairly extensive past of similarly selfish relationships.
This is where the film’s greatest weakness lies: the limited range of its lead actor, Michael Cera, to convincingly convey the complexities behind Scott’s motivation. His geek charm is more than adequate for the comedic side of things – indeed, Cera has an extraordinary sense of timing, and the reason he’s been typecast into this kind of awkward-sweetie role is that he’s so damn good at it – but the oddly irresistible, womanizing side of Scott Pilgrim doesn’t fit.
Small matter. The world Scott and his friends inhabit is full of enough absurdities and paradoxes (sound effects flash on screen in word form, Batman-style), it’s not so much of a stretch to see Michael Cera as a heartbreaker. After all, what we have here is a geek fantasy: a video game brought to life. Indeed, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best video game movie ever (not that there’s a long list of competition), thanks to the obvious fondness of Wright for the gaming world. Like with his parodies of zombie films and buddy cop thrillers, Wright kids because he loves. His expert attention to detail (dozens of sound effects and musical cues from classic games are used here) reveals as much. Wright and his editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss do a bang-up job of replicating the frantic pace of a video game through ingenious form cuts; the plot tumbles from one scene to the next seamlessly. The fights themselves are brilliantly choreographed, a combination of adrenaline-pumping music and action to rival the best arcade brawlers.
Meanwhile, the hilarious ensemble cast makes the narrative more than just filler. Culkin, Kendrick, Pill and Plaza all stand out, as well as Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman and Jason Schwartzman as four of Ramona’s exes. The music is also bitchin’; Sex Bob-Omb’s songs were composed by renowned rocker Beck, while Scott’s ex Natalie brings the catchy indie pop of Metric to the table. Props to those artists for joining score composer Nigel Godrich to create such an appropriately downloadable soundtrack.
This summer has featured some above-average summer fare. Toy Story 3 moved our hearts and brought a close to a beloved franchise. Inception strained our minds and challenged the way we perceive reality (and movies). The Kids Are All Right revived our hopes that yes, the kids (and us) ARE all right. But these movies could have come out any time during the year, really. Scott Pilgrim is a summer movie, through and through; just would’ve been nice if it came around sooner than mid-August.
Now in theaters.
Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars