(Spoiler Warning! This review reveals key plot points for the movie)
While the film isn’t quite the ‘epic of epic epicness’ all those bus and subway posters promise, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is certainly the most joyful and romantic movie released this summer. Yes, it does stumble down the stretch, but there are moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout.
The movie also pretty much defies categorical description. I suppose a coming-of-age romantic comedy is the most apt way to describe the movie. Ultimately, that’s what it’s about, Scott Pilgrim moving on, and growing up.
But with its whirly blur of action, pop culturally relevant wit, fantasy and romance, it’s almost an exercise in futility to try and corner “Scott Pilgrim vs.” into a specific genre. You could go with comic book adaptation, which it obviously is. But it’s more like “Love Story” for the Nintendo generation, where you can get a second chance at love, as long as you have enough bonus points.
Edgar Wright’s spirited take on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel from Oni Press is an ode to classic video games, taking place in a vague time period littered with cell phones, AOL log-ins and SNES games. Wright drops playful eye candy throughout the film, visual ‘Ring Rings’ and ‘Ka-Chings’ that resemble the graphic style of a game screen. Characters get killed and turned into piles of coins. The action sequences feel like live-action anime, thanks to quick-trigger editing and background blurs.
The guy at the center of the tale, the Mario of the piece, is Scott Pilgrim. He’s a Toronto 20-something couch jockey who plays bass in a rock band called Sex Bob-Omb, shares a studio with his gay roommate, and is in a rebound sort-of relationship with a 17-year-old high school girl. He’s like one of the kids in the Rush “Subdivisions” video.
Then Ramona Flowers roller blades her way into Scott’s life and everything quickly – a bit too quickly – goes topsy-turvy. Scott falls so far so fast, he doesn’t even bother to break up with his googly-eyed girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong) before getting all up in Ramona’s bidness.
What Scott doesn’t realize is that he’s about to get punk-slapped by a major dose of karmic come-uppance. For reasons not clearly explained in the movie, Scott Pilgrim is a lady-killer. He’s notched a number of broken hearts in his relationship belt, including band mate Kim (Alison Pill). So what happens? His dream girl brings her own baggage: Seven evil ex-boyfriends that Scott must beat down, if he’s to win Ramona’s heart.
Soon, Scott is yielding a video game ninja sword, leaping through the air trying to take down his super-powered foes, before it’s ‘game over.’ The excellent soundtrack provides a strong backbone for the film, especially during an entertaining ‘battle of the bands’ sequence. Think “The Matrix’s” bullet-time technique with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
The ‘Scott vs. the Evil Exes’ premise yields mixed results. Some were inspired, like the first showdown with Emo Pirate Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha). Brandon Routh, who’s obviously been working out since “Superman Returns,” also scores bonus points as bleach blonde Ex #3 Todd Ingram, who also happens to be dating Scott’s rock star ex-girlfriend Envy. Scott’s takedown of Todd also is the greatest slap in the face to a vegan villain in movie history.
The best of the bunch is Chris Evans as Ex #2, action movie star Lucas Lee. Evans’ homage to The Rock during his WWF salad days, complete with the raised eyebrow, reaffirms that the comedic touch he showed off in “The Losers” was no fluke.
By comparison, the other Evil Exes suffered greatly.
The film dragged noticeably after Evil Ex #3 was dispatched, to the point that the joy of seeing Jason Schwartzman as evil Ex #7 Gideon at the end is somewhat muted by the fact that it just took so long to get there. Oh, the irony that a movie aimed at the ADD audience overstays its welcome.
Sluggish pacing is not a capital offense, however. It’s not even the film’s biggest misstep.
That would be the fact that the story never ventures beneath the surface of Scott and Ramona’s relationship. It was as if Wright was afraid he would lose his audience’s attention if he dug a bit deeper. Scott falls in love with her instantly, yet by the end of the movie, you’re still left wondering why she’s his be-all, end-all.
That’s not to say the characters aren’t well defined. As the title character, Michael Cera is as perfectly cast, as you would expect him to be. Some critics dismiss him by saying he doesn’t have a wide enough acting range, but Cera excels at bewildered, self-effacing humor like no other young actor today.
As Ramona, Elizabeth Winstead is charming and engaging in all her various hair colors.
The supporting cast has its moments too, especially Kieran Culkin as Scott’s caustic roomie Wallace. Anna Kendrick makes the most of her few lines as Scott’s sister Stacey. Even the Sex Bob-Omb band mates, especially Young Neil (Johnny Simmons), make a good impression. By the end of the movie, you feel like you know who each of these characters are.
By the end of the movie, you will also have fallen completely bonkers in love with Ellen Wong. Her performance as Knives is hands-down the most utterly charming supporting turn this year. She steals the movie as Scott’s wide-eyed younger girlfriend. So much so, that by story’s end, you start thinking that Scott’s been pining for the wrong girl.
When you’re telling a ‘boy meets girl, boy gets girl’ story, it’s essential that the boy winds up with the right girl. I’m not so sure that’s what happened in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
All of the charming, inventive cleverness on display in the film can’t mask that flaw. Which is why in the end, “Scott Pilgrim” comes up a bit short of the epic epic-ness it occasionally flirted with.