The storyline is a simple one: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a twentysomething Canadian slacker who shares a mattress with his gay best friend and roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), plays bass in a garage band called Sex Bob-Omb and is dating a high school student named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Everything changes, however, when he has a dream where he sees Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman he thinks is a fantasy but winds up being a very real person who just moved to town. Scott pursues a relationship with Ramona (to the detriment of his relationship with Knives), and then the film whips into overdrive as Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes start showing up to kick Scott’s ass (in order to date Ramona, Scott must defeat each Ex in turn).
The movie starts off slow, setting the stage and attempting to build the foundation for what little character development is to come. Once the Evil Exes enter the picture, the film is a kinetic onslaught that is less like a movie and more like a video game, story-wise, as each step leads to another level, another boss battle. While I didn’t find the progression boring, it does have that countdown feel (there’s 45 minutes left, and we’ve beaten 3 bosses…) and I wonder how it would play for those who don’t enjoy the action as much as they would enjoy, say, an actual relationship being formed between Scott and Ramona (more on that later).
The flick, once it gets rolling, is a visual feast and I don’t think those inclined to epileptic fits will find this movie all that much fun (unless they enjoy their seizures; I’m sure there’s some sado-masochistic epileptics out there). Set aside that the film adapts the source material well (Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels), it just does the idea of a “comic book movie” superbly to boot. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” isn’t so much an adaptation of a comic book or graphic novel as it is an adaptation of what it looks and sounds like in my head when I’m reading a comic book or graphic novel.
At the same time, the film is like taking a comic book and blending it with an old 8-bit video game and then smooshing that into a music video ball and up-res’ing the whole thing until it plays on your PS3. If the film isn’t referencing its source material, its referencing what the source material references and then going even deeper to reference what the references where, uh, referencing. It’s piles upon piles of social context!
All that said, I am not a fan of Scott Pilgrim or Ramona Flowers. The former is clueless to the point of cruelty and the latter is such a non-personality (wow, she dyes her hair weird colors) that watching the two interact doesn’t seem romantic so much as forced. I know we can’t choose who we fall in love with (can we?), but I had no idea why Scott was so keen on Ramona that he’d risk getting his ass kicked (or worse, killed), just to be with her. For me, the reason I eventually believed that the two should be together is because I disliked them equally and, therefore, they might as well be together.
And before someone tries to tell me that there was subtext or blah blah blah in the source material… I read the source material, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” not Bryan Lee O’Malley’s (to compare them isn’t a movie review, that’s a blog entry). It is a consistent pet peeve of mine when people try to explain a film adaptation by using the language of the source material when the two are separate entities, and you shouldn’t need to know one to enjoy the other.
Which, in this case, holds true. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a strong, senses-engaging bit of cinema and I think it can be enjoyed, at least in its initial viewing, on the sheer sensual assault. Filmmakers will study this film to figure out the tricks to help elevate their own craft. A bar has been raised in the world of filmmaking, not-so-much in the world of character development… unless you accept the world in which the film operates and treat it as Scott Pilgrim treats everything: like a video game. Maybe it’s not about a real affection for Ramona so much as it is about finishing the really challenging video game in front of you. As he progresses through the Evil Exes, and the levels get harder, he has to keep going for the same reason so many of the rest of us do: to say we beat the game.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” for all the faults I find in its characters, is not lacking in quality acting. Just because I don’t like Scott Pilgrim doesn’t mean I didn’t like Michael Cera’s performance. Cera is wonderful in the film, though the real scene-stealers come in the form of Chris Evans as Evil Ex Number 2 and Brandon Routh as Evil Ex Number 3. Sure, the villains always seem more interesting than the heroes, but Evans and Routh (and to lesser effect Jason Schwartman’s Gideon) just own the screen when they’re on. Nevermind their special powers or personality, just having them stand next to Michael Cera makes you fear for Scott Pilgrim’s well-being (because, honestly, how does he stack up to them; they’re so hunky, charismatic…).
Regardless of how you finally feel about “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” there’s no denying that you’ve never seen anything quite like it before, and it is worth experiencing (preferably in a theater where the audio and visuals can envelop you and pummel you to their will).