Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Universal, PG-13)

Scott Pilgrim is the best of both worlds: it’s not only slavishly faithful to O’Malley’s original, it’s actually better.


Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has built himself a precious little life. He’s got a cute-as-a-button high-schooler girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He plays bass in the gloriously ramshackle nerd-punk band Sex Bob-Omb with singer/guitarist/“talent” Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and super-sarcastic drummer/ex-girlfriend Kim Pine (Alison Pill). He shares a perfectly serviceable one-room hovel with his “cool gay roommate,” Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). “Scott,” Kim deadpans, “if your life had a face, I would punch it.” But Scott doesn’t care: he’s perfectly content in his little twentysomething hipster world.
Until, that is, he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s literally the girl of his dreams: Scott sees her rollerblade through his dreams one night, and when he sees her the next day in the dual hair-colored, leather-jacketed flesh, he’s instantly smitten. When Sex Bob-Omb is set to play a battle of the bands, Scott thinks his biggest problem is that his new kinda-sorta girlfriend and his not-quite-broken-up-with-yet old girlfriend are sitting next to each other, but when a flamboyant Bollywood reject named Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) bursts through the ceiling, Scott finds out the real score: if he wants to date Ramona, he’ll have to defeat each of her seven evil exes in fistfights, skate-offs, bass battles, and other forms of mortal combat.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s much-beloved graphic novel series, a six-volume mash-up of twentysomething romantic angst, punk rock attitude, manga-inspired imagery, and NES-era video game action. Trying to transfer all that insanity into a believable live action movie sounds like an impossible task, but it’s hard to imagine a better choice for the job than Edgar Wright. His last film, Hot Fuzz, was one of the most brilliant comedies of the last decade, a send-up of action movies and a love letter to same. Most importantly, though, Hot Fuzz was flawlessly constructed, placing every detail such that even the tiniest detail could set up a gut-busting joke an hour later.
Wright accomplishes the exact same trick with Scott Pilgrim, albeit in a way that’s as different from Hot Fuzz as that film was to its predecessor, Shaun of the Dead. Scott Pilgrim creates its own visual language by bringing the comic book to life in the most literal way possible. When a phone rings, a “rrrrrriiiing!” sound effect shoots out of the receiver. When Knives confesses her feelings to Scott, the word “love” erupts out of her mouth as a giant pink cloud accompanied by a gale force wind. When the most important moments hit, the reaction shots split the screen into comic book panels. (Okay, so maybe he borrowed that last one from Ang Lee’s Hulk, but it’s much better suited here.)
The visual style of Scott Pilgrim—kinetic, exciting, original, and never overdone—is half the fun. The other half is split between the snappy, witty script (by Wright and actor/screenwriter Michael Bacall) and the delivery of said script by the impeccably chosen cast. The minor characters have a habit of stealing scenes with some of the best one-liners, especially Culkin as the sardonic Wallace, Anna Kendrick as Scott’s far more mature younger sister Stacey, and Aubrey Plaza as Scott’s friend Julie Powers, channeling the same sour-faced apathy she brings to April on TV’s Parks and Recreation. The seven evil exes get little screentime but are a blast while they’re around, particularly Chris Evans, who is clearly having a gas by pushing the clichés of every action movie he’s ever been in as far over the top as they can go as skater-turned-action star Lucas Lee. Extra credit also goes to ex-Superman Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, a blond-haired vegan who fails epically at trying to concoct tough guy lines, and Jason Schwartzman as the smarmy Gideon Graves, this game’s final boss.
Comic book movies usually engender two kinds of questions: fans of the source material want to know how faithful it is to the original, and non-fans want to know if they’ll be totally lost for not knowing said source material. In that respect, Scott Pilgrim is the best of both worlds: it’s not only slavishly faithful to O’Malley’s original, it’s actually better. Very little of note was lost in paring the book’s 1200 pages down to a manageable 113 minutes, but so much more was gained in the transition. For starters, as much as I love comics, the one thing that just does not translate into comics as a silent, static medium is music—music just doesn’t work if you can’t hear it. The music portions of the graphic novels are basically ignorable, but in the film, they’re the best parts, with Sex Bob-Omb’s lo-fi punk brought to blistering life (with songs penned by Beck, no less) and camera work that captures the gritty feel of an all-ages punk show. And while comic book art can approximate the look of a video game, there’s nothing quite like a film that actually moves like and looks like the video game it’s trying to emulate.
Perhaps the biggest improvement over the source material, though, is Michael Cera’s Scott. The comic version of Scott is, quite frankly, kind of a dick, and Cera’s dim-witted charm sands off some of those rough edges. He’s still playing safely within the same lovably awkward territory as George Michael Bluth and Paulie Bleeker, but with a bit more self-confident swagger: you can see why these girls would be attracted to Scott Pilgrim, and you like him enough that you want him to pummel his way through the League of Evil Exes. And while the film fails the Bechdel Test (as nearly every conversation in the movie is either about Scott or one of the evil exes), Ramona and Knives both make for strong, capable female characters.
This meandering review is my meager attempt to justify to you this one simple sentence: Go see this movie. It truly is unlike anything else at the theater this summer, a well-written, well-acted, funny, romantic, action-packed thrill ride with a wild visual style all its own. | Jason Green

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