San Diego Comic-Con was a huge love fest for this, director Edgar Wright’s latest movie. (Previous beloved outings: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz.) Some may complain of Michael Cera fatigue, but Scott Pilgrim gives Cera’s tender appeal some post-punk juice. This movie makes full use of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel source material (graphic renditions of feelings, quick short cutaways like individual panels) as well as its target demographic’s love of video games, anime, and epic epics of epic epicness. Wright fully commits to a style that is loud and bright and snarky and dynamic — and the key words here are “fully commits.” Even small reaction shots get a sound sting and/or an effect or camera move. Be sure to take your seizure medication before seeing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I’d say overall that the movie is about 90% style and 10% substance, but the style is so fully realized, so lush and different and dynamic, that it in itself becomes substantive.
Cera’s 22 year-old title character lives with the not-seen-enough Kieran Culkin and has a “fake high school girlfriend” named Knives (the adorable Ellen Wong), that is, until he meets Ramona Flowers (a detached Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona is a punky funky fuschia-haired chick who has a League of Evil Exes that any new swain of hers must battle to the death in order to date her. Is she worth it? The movie doesn’t bother to answer that (hence the 10% substance). It doesn’t matter. Scott thinks she is. Not all the Evil Exes have supernatural powers, but some of them happen to. It’s pretty great how Wright can plop the extraordinary into a sea of ordinary and still keep his feet on the ground, even with this hyper-real video game-like world. I wonder what he might do with a franchise like X-Men. Pilgrim battles, the loser drops loot, achievements are unlocked, and his levels increase. Meanwhile he still needs to deal with Knives, his roommate situation, and the struggle of his band, the Sex Bob-Ombs. Sure, in real life we all struggle with multiple challenges, though little of it so publicly.
If you have watched or played Mortal Kombat and its ilk, or seen big one-on-one battles in anime movies, the visual language of the film will be clear enough. After seeing the film I was able to flip through one of the graphic novels, and the frenetic-but-never-frantic tone is dead on. If the last video game you played was a table-top console of Ms. Pac Man at a pizza joint, go with a high schooler who can translate between yelping “Pwned!” The story itself is pretty pedestrian, more like a quest than a full narrative with full characters. The people get a lot of pyrotechnics and fantastic editing behind their stories and performances — and by behind, I mean in the classic sense of upstaging. But really, the pleasure of this movie, and it is hyperactively pleasurable, is in digging the mechanics of it; the gamifying of life, if you will. The animations, the floating words and jump cuts and witty barbs, the funny villains and Cera’s unlikely but solid bad-assitude, these all make a potent and spicy sauce you may not have seen before.
Remember in Shaun of the Dead, the Requiem-for-a-Dream quick montages of Shaun getting ready to go out for the day? Take that pace and sense of overly vital importance, and add tons of insane anime-inspired fight scenes; then take script pages from Better Off Dead, Mean Girls, and Kick-Ass and put it all in a blender with Cera and Culkin. Did I enjoy it because it made me feel young and in touch with the kids today? More so I enjoyed its balls-to-the-wall full-on appropriation of the concept and the merry, antic pace for what is really just a sweet romantic comedy about nerds.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/13/10
Time in minutes 112
Director Edgar Wright
Studio Universal Pictures