Running time: 112 min.
Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Allison Pill, Mark Webber, Anna Kendrick
In the hyperactive world of Scott Pilgrim, quite nearly anything is possible.
At one point in his new film, the haphazard Mr. Pilgrim and his less-than-stellar band, the enthusiastically named Sex Bo-omb! are playing in a battle of the amps and losing magnificently to a duo of asian keyboard prodigies. Pushed beyond their limits and challenged at every turn, Scott and the rest channel their inner rockers, jamming in perfect unison. Their concentrated vigor manifests itself as a giant electric Yeti that gobbles up their adversaries.
Yes, it’s that kind of movie. Scott Pilgrim VS the World overdoses on terminal whimsy; the simple act of watching it like ingesting a whole bag of candy corn through your retinas. It tastes good going down, but you prepare yourself for an aftermath bellyache. With Edgar Wright’s witty, overheated take on the popular graphic novels, there’s just some mild heartburn. Fans of the funny books will leave the theater still basking in the glow of the film’s singular brand of kookiness.
To sum up, it’s like a feature length game of Mega Man, if you were chugging Red Bull at the time and listening to as much kick-ass electronica as your eardrums could handle. It;s a treat when the Universal logo comes spiraling across the screen in all of its 8 bit glory with the well-recognized theme playing in classic synth style. Video game iconography is peppered throughout. Hearing references like Clash at Demonhead or watching as the film namechecks musical riffs from the Final Fantasy series might not mean much for average viewers, but they add to the game culture that sits at the center of the Pilgrimverse.
Of course, it isn’t enough for a film to merely provide geek pop citations or visual bubblegum if it really hasn’t anymore to offer. What works here, in its own way, are the characters and the lovingly detailed world they live in. Wright banged out a hit with Shaun of the Dead because he was cheerfully critiquing the slacker culture at the same time he was satirizing the zombie genre.
With Scott Pilgirm, he’s tapping into the labrynthine pop history of today’s digital denizens and replicating their values and habits through the electronic zip of their technology. These characters, save for the lovely Knives Chou(she’s Chinese), aren’t teenagers but they find themselves endlessly trapped in cycles of adolescent behavior.
Although the film looks amazing, capturing the freedom and unfiltered physical emotion–and motion– of a kinetic graphic novel, it can’t find that same energy in it’s primary cast. Michael Cera’s Pilgrim is a wet blanket, when he’s not being nails on a chalkboard. Add to this that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is just goth-poser window dressing for fanboys and you have an unlikely couple for a romance. Let’s not fool ourselves here, this movie is about superficial goofiness, not real relational intimations no matter what the blogosphere says.
Cera takes his well-known aura of hipster irritation and grinds it against our psyche right from the outset.Really, who needs to actually fight all seven of his girlfriends past demons to understand that he’s got adequacy issues or committment struggles? Cera doesn’t step too far out of the comfort zone, and I guess that’s right for this project. When he’s wielding a laser sword fashioned from self-esteem itself, I realized it was the production design and special effects I was enjoying, not this particular character.
The rest of the players are all fine, but the stand-outs of the main cast are Kieran Culkin as Pilgrim’s gay, carousing roomate and Ellen Wong as the 17 yr old Knives, the high schooler being strung along by Scott after an exceptionally hard break-up. Both Culkin and Wong have grasped the central rhythm of the film, and they fit the characters into it. In particular, I thought Wong had more punk-rock pizazz and tragi-comic angst than Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona. Wong even accentuates her mannerisms to mime the distortions of classic manga art. I was left wondering if her eyes really do go that big naturally, and apparently its legit; they do.
Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman and others amusingly chomp at the scenery as the League of Evil Exes. I personally loved the way Routh’s mega-vegan is not-so-subtly lampooning his maligned turn as Superman a few years back. Later, when the Vegan police show up, there’s a hilarious cameo that feels just about perfect. With each new ex, Wright ups the visual ante, making his transitions less flashy and more sturdy, and ebbing away the 2-D flattening of the film in favor of a fully dimensional video game arena. As the dramatic stakes go up so does the fever-pitch intensity. There’s a natural escalation that helps us find the movie’s considerable off-kilter groove.
There isn’t much more I can say about Scott Pilgrim that could possibly convince you to see it. If you didn’t make it past the first paragraph before doubting, there’s a good chance this might not be your cup of tea. It isn’t deep, high-brow or even dramatically nourishing. Like other wild-eyed rides before it (Kamikaze Girls, Speed Racer) Scott Pilgirm dares to get lost in the zany orbit of its contrivances. Yes, it may have its head wedged way up it’s own butt, but it discovers up there a tilting world of sugar-coated crazy.