Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Mark Webber
Written by: Michael Bacall/Edgar Wright (based off the “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels by Brian Lee O’ Malley)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
I don’t think I’ve ever had my senses get overloaded as much as I did when watching Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Moving along at a brisk A.D.D. (and comic book) pace, the movie barely lets you react to what just happened before BOOM you’re thrown into another situation or the scene changes or just something happened. While that may seem like too much for some, I found that to be a positive thing. In fact, I found a lot of positive things about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and can sum it up in one quick phrase: SEE IT. However, I will get into more detail because I need to placate my own ego.
Based on the Oni Press graphic novel series that many geeks consider to be one of the greatest of all-time, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World stars Michael Cera as the title character (Scott Pilgrim, not The World), a twenty something who plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-omb and is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). One day, he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or as I like to call her, “the wife”), a girl he thought only existed in his crazy acid-trip dreams, and instantly falls for her. After some hesitancy, Ramona gives in to Scott’s advances and they begin dating.
Like all hot girls though, Ramona has baggage and this baggage takes the form of seven evil ex’s whom Scott must fight to the death in order to win her heart. And we’re not talking just like a slapfight in a school parking lot; in this universe, people live by video game law so we’re talking fights that defy gravity and end when the person bursts into coins. What began as a simple quirky love story becomes a quirky video game love story, as Scott and Ramona get closer as Scott also fends off the attacks of her ex’s (including Chris Evans and Brandon Routh).
There is so much to like about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World that I have no idea where to begin, so bear with me as this turns into a stream of consciousness list. I’ll start with the editing; I’m not kidding when I said earlier that this goes at a breakneck pace. Scenes literally blend into one another constantly and consistently and more importantly, seamlessly. Although never giving you a chance to really wrap your head around what you’ve seen, the editing style is so effective at keeping you engaged that it is easily forgivable. The visual style of the movie is excellent as well, from the fights themselves (stylized to look like it came right out of an arcade cabinet) to the way text appears when a sound effect is used (examples: “WHAM!” for punches, or a “Riiiiiiiiiiing” when the phone is, um, you know). Visually, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a feast for the eyes.
The universe it creates for itself may not make a lot of sense, but the filmmakers both commit to the lunacy and fill the world with an insane amount of side characters. Although it’s a bit overboard, the side characters are interesting and entertaining in their bit parts, so it’s hard to get really upset. Kieran Culkin, as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace, especially shines here. He’s mostly just the snark to Scott’s whimsy, but he is an absolute riot. Aubrey Plaza, who plays the monotone Julie Powers, is hilarous. Anna Kendrick, as Scott’s sister Stacey, has little screen time but even manages to make the most out of it. This is a movie where you can’t help but like the majority of the side characters, despite having no time to develop or to really shine.
2010 has completely changed my mind about Michael Cera; first there was Youth in Revolt and now with his role in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, I’m officially on the bandwagon I’ve been avoiding since his role on Arrested Development. If Cera was to leave the business forever right now, his portrayal of Scott Pilgrim would be his defining role. It is absolutely perfect; he does his awkward Cera routine, but it’s actually funny (thanks to the material and Edgar Wright being awesome at comedy) and he also shows himself to be a pretty big bad ass with his fight scenes. He mixes the two together excellently and in a just world, he will be praised by the truckload for this. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an absolute knock out, and her portrayal of mysterious hipster chick Ramona Flowers is pretty good, if a little underdeveloped. Still, it’s easy to see why Scott would fall for her; in fact, I fell for Ramona too and she’s not even a real person! They make a good on-screen couple; Scott’s overall enthusiasm and Ramona’s tentative happiness (you get the feeling she’s trying not to let herself be happy) are a good mix and they have great chemistry.
But what good is a hero without a good cast of villains? On the whole, the evil ex’s are absolutely terrific. They only exist for the short-term and you never really get to know their motives or much about them (except Gideon Graves, the main bad guy played brilliantly by Jason Schwartzman), but it’s an enjoyable experience. The stand-outs are obviously Chris Evans and Brandon Routh. Evans plays Lucas Lee, an egotistical skateboarder turned movie star and almost steals the show from Cera and the gang in the five minutes he’s on screen. Routh plays vegan bassist Todd Ingrim, who plays for Scott’s ex girlfriend’s band Clash at the Demonhead (girlfriend played by the excellent Brie Larson from United States of Tara). I’ve been hard on Routh since his Superman days, but his minor role as Ingrim has made me think he could definitely have a shot at comedies in the future. His segment also includes a cameo by two people that is so ridiculous, it becomes amazing. Ingrim’s fight/moments are the best in terms of the “Scott Vs.” aspect.
No movie is perfect though, and there are a couple of minor flaws that keep Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World from reaching deity status. While the pace is actually incredible, it does feel like it got stuffed with a little too much; between the side characters and the boss battles (we got seven ex’s to meet people!) and all the other little things going on, it can get a little overwhelming. Even though it remains faithful to its source material, cutting some of it out wouldn’t have been a bad idea, or maybe letting it play out over more than one movie (which, given its crappy box office take, probably won’t happen so I guess they had hindsight). Mae Whitman, who plays the lone evil ex GIRLFRIEND Roxy Richter is flat out annoying, but that’s the character and not the actor. Her one-liners were wretched and made me cringe (“bi-furious”? REALLY?), and she could’ve been cut out easily. My biggest problem had to do with the ending, however; after all of this hyperactive energy, the ending just drags for the sake of a joke that admittedly has a funny pay-off, but just didn’t need to be there.
There’s so much to gush about in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World that I could go on forever; despite its few flaws, it’s one of the most original movies (visually and story-wise) to come out in a long time which is saying a lot considering it is an adaptation. The cast is great (especially scene stealers Kieran Culkin and Brandon Routh), the characters all interesting, the story is ludicrous but fun…it’s just a goddamn good time. However, it isn’t for everyone; this is for more of a nerdier crowd, and more for a crowd that can accept ridiculous universe notions (if you get confused/annoyed when fights break out between two people who all of a sudden know kung-fu, just ask for a refund and be done with it). If you can, then this is worth your money, most definitely; and judging by how it’s performing at the box office, time is running out to see it on the big screen, so GO! GOOOOO!