Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Review

(3.5 STARS)

Forget Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Forget Max Payne. Forget every other shitty video game adaptation you may or may not have seen in the past few years because Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the movie gamers out there have been waiting for. No, it’s not technically based on a video game, but it’s essentially a big screen version of a cheesy ‘90s Sega: Genesis game. The cheesiness and the absurdity are of the tongue-in-cheek variety, and director Edgar Wright fills his satire with more visual gags than any film I think I’ve ever seen. It’s a totally unique way to tell a familiar story, and it makes Scott Pilgrim vs. The World one of the most enjoyable film experiences I’ve had in a while.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) leads a simple life. He’s “in between jobs,” and he spends the majority of his time rocking out with his band, Sex Bob-om, and hanging out/babysitting his girlfriend, high-school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). One night, he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Scott realizes she is the girl of his dreams. The two go on a date and share a (sex-free) night in bed. But dating Ramona doesn’t come without costs. She has seven evil exes, and in order to live happily ever after, Scott must defeat them all.

Each battle plays out like a level of Mortal Kombat. Scott takes on an ex (the exes are played by the likes of Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Swartzman as the big, bad boss) and earns points, coins, and power-ups every time he takes one down. The battles themselves are wild, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film before. They represent Scott Pilgrim’s most enjoyable and energetic moments. And Wright is smart enough to always change things up. No one battle is the same as another. In one, an ex uses his mighty vegan powers to throw Scott around a bit. In another, his band helps him defeat two twin exes in an amp-to-amp faceoff. The variety among these scenes doesn’t make them feel stale by the end of the film. In fact, I think I could have watched Scott take down 10 or 11 exes without things feeling stale.

That being said, the film isn’t perfect. While the method of storytelling is unique, the story itself doesn’t feel like it’s breaking any new ground; Michael Cera himself did something similar in Youth in Revolt. Trying to win a girl over from her cruel, imperfect ex-boyfriend is a staple of any rom-com (although they don’t normally fight in this way). The film’s other problem lies in its pacing. When Scott isn’t battling someone, things tend to lag. It’s not a major problem because after the 45-minute mark, the film is almost non-stop fighting, but combined with the familiarity of the story itself, it prevents me from being able to hand out four stars.

Two relationships are central to Scott Pilgrim. The first is Scott’s love for Ramona. She reciprocates his feelings, but his are definitely stronger. While the film is unbelievable, we have to believe he would be willing to do all of these crazy things for her in order for the film to work. They also have a number of sweet moments that ups our emotional investment in their relationship.

The other important relationship is that between Scott and Knives. At first, it appears the Knives character is simply meant to be comic relief. The scenes in which she stalks the band and tries to imitate Ramona are very funny. But late in the film it becomes clear that this is a young girl who has never been in love and has been genuinely hurt. To achieve the ending we want, Knives needs to gain some sort of catharsis. Otherwise, we’ll end up feeling sorry for the way things turned out. Thankfully, Wright doesn’t discard this character easily, and Ellen Wong should be commended for her great work with a complicated character.

The rest of the acting is solid, but this really isn’t an actor-centric film. Michael Cera plays another incarnation of Michael Cera. His presence was my one hesitation about this film going in (while I loved him in Arrested Development, I’ve grown tired of the shtick of late), but he’s better here than usual. It’s not an emotive performance. It’s not a rangy performance. But we do have to believe in him as a leading man, and he succeeds in that respect. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is good as well, though to be honest, I felt her character was a bit flat. The film doesn’t call for her to do much more than change her hair color frequently and look on while Scott fights for her. All the exes are great fun. Mae Whitman (Egg, I mean, Ann from Arrested Development) plays a Ramona’s scorned and psychotic former lesbian lover. Chris Evans is a hilariously cocky skateboarder-turned-actor. Brandon Routh is the aforementioned vegan. And Jason Schwartzman is the evil record executive who Ramona can’t seem to escape.

I think Scott Pilgrim represents exactly what summer movies are about. It’s fun and full of energy. It combines exciting action with hilarious comedy. It’s visually energetic and as engaging as any film this year. Despite its minor flaws, I have a hard time thinking this won’t at least earn some serious consideration for my end-of-year top 10 list.

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