Based on a cherished comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film whose hyperactivity is matched only by its consistent originality. Directed by Hot Fuzz comedy maverick Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim is a terrifically entertaining and visually audacious slice of blockbuster filmmaking. Wright continues his winning streak and deserves plaudits for actually sticking Michael Cera in a good movie again (even if the actor’s traits remain a little stale). The tone of the picture circulates pure geek celebration, firing out videogame and comic book references with glee, all neatly packed in a narrative about a lovable loser trying to attain his dream girl. It’s hard not to become smitten by this finely tuned adventure.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a jobless schmuck who plays in a band (named Sex Bob-Omb) and dates a high-school student (Ellen Wong) several years his junior. At a party Scott becomes infatuated with new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and despite pessimism from his friends (Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill) and younger sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) he tries to forge a relationship with the spunky Ramona. The two hit it off after Ramona begins to fall for Scott’s pesky charms but this opens up a new predicament, the involvement of Ramona’s seven evil exes. In order for Scott and Ramona to officially become partners the slacker must first defeat each member of Ramona’s dating history, culminating in a clash with the mysterious and dangerous Gideon.
Michael Cera is still Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim, but for once that maybe isn’t such an infuriating thing. Cera is able to bring his comic timing and timid charisma to the role and make it work, even if it marks another film in which the actor refuses to stretch himself. Along with a well written screenplay (courtesy of Wright and Michael Bacall) Cera transforms Scott into a likable slacker, certainly rough around the edges but with his heart in the right place. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is extremely appealing as Ramona, capturing a distant charm and comedic aloofness, which combined with her beauty and oddly sexy haircut, makes her performance a winner. The seven evil exes are portrayed by an interesting range of thespians, most finding success (a domineering Chris Evans and slimy Jason Schwartzman are highlights) although there is a decided imbalance of screen time between them. Scott’s motley band of friendly reprobates are ably handled by Alison Pill and Mark Webber, with Kieran Culkin deserving a special badge of comedic honour for his uproarious turn as Scott’s gay roommate.
Visually the film is a masterpiece, a frenzied blur of excitable eye candy and enthralling set design. The film sets out its intentions from the outset (the revamped Universal logo draws a chuckle), the whole enterprise being brought to the fore with a welcome videogame sensibility. In many senses Scott Pilgrim is the first great videogame film, it may not be directly sourced from the world of button bashing, but its aesthetic is an utter celebration of gaming culture. The fight sequences (which are superbly choreographed) all emulate the typical combat gaming form, with Wright also adding little touches such as life bars and coin credits to really hammer home the stylistic choice. The cinematography is full of verve and colourful fizz and the production design embodies both imagination and high voltage energy. From a technical standpoint Scott Pilgrim is more or less flawless, a triumph from beginning to end.
The screenplay balances absurd comedy with some very touching material, finding both laughs and moments of dramatic poignancy to reward viewers for taking the trip. The dialogue is filled with odd but enjoyable jokes, and the style of humour suits Cera’s one dimensional comedic skills rather well. The film avoids parading through gross out territory, instead finding a wittier and smarter way to draw out giggles and ensure that audiences don’t take the endeavour too seriously. Wright is a director with a beautiful sense of comic timing and this is really evident in Scott Pilgrim, sight and reaction gags becoming a big part of the movie’s comic DNA. The relationship between Scott and Ramona also flourishes rather beautifully in Scott Pilgrim, a patient and believable interpretation of a young couple’s courtship. The dynamic doesn’t rush and develops at a pleasant and realistic pace, something that many audience members will find particularly engaging. Not every relationship involves one partner fighting the other’s exes, but every couple endures speed bumps along the way, the violence of Scott Pilgrim just a cartoonish and endearing embodiment of such troubles.
Scott Pilgrim only really suffers from one genuine fault, although it’s a biggie. The pacing of the film is rather troubling at times, Wright having had to condense six graphic novels into a single 110 minute feature. The film consistently handles its central arc with authority and skill, but certain subplots exist in a much messier and tacked on sort of fashion. Scott’s relationship with his 17-year old fling is a good example of this, it’s vital to the overall product but its placement in the larger picture is inconsistent and slightly incoherent. Part of the problem might be a somewhat grating performance from Ellen Wong, but Wright’s blending of this element into the tale is jarring, as is a blossoming relationship between Wong and one of Scott’s quiet slacker buddies played by the terminally bland Johnny Simmons. The film might have been improved by either a slightly shorter or more beefed up edit, because in its current form certain parts of the movie feel undercooked and out of place.
The arcade warfare of Scott Pilgrim is electrifying and as a visual experience it’s a true gem. However what really sets the film apart is its sweet romantic core and of course an astute and skilled understanding of how to make audiences laugh. The pacing is a little disturbing but ultimately that’s nothing a director’s cut DVD can’t fix. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an exhilarating thrill ride and another critical success for the talented Edgar Wright. Long may his joyous contribution to cinema continue.
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Michael Bacall (screenplay), Edgar Wright (screenplay), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press graphic novels)
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Mark Webber, Alison Pill, Johnny Simmons, Aubrey Plaza
Runtime: 112 minutes