Last weekend, Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables was number one in the US box office, not least because of its appeal to draw audience nostalgia from its band of beefy action stars from explosive 1980s action films. Meanwhile, a modestly advertised movie called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World also opened the same weekend and was a box office disappointment. In a fairer universe, Scott Pilgrim would have blown The Expendables right out of this world with its far greater achievement in delivering pure fun.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the latest film by British director Edgar Wright, who may now corner the market in turning fading genres into funny satirical comedy. His last two movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, brought out like a spring fountain the hilarity lurking under the preposterousness of the zombie and the bombastic Hollywood buddy cop action genres, respectively, while still paying affectionate homage to their roots. While Scott Pilgrim is not quite up there with those two comedies, his turn to old school video games proves his sharp eye for loving, visual satire.
This is the movie you wish all the past video game adaptations had been, only that this is adapted from the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley (and video games have yet to serve as rich enough source material for a movie). From the opening Universal logo theme played with that old organ synthesizer from Nintendo games, the movie grafts all the familiar video game tricks into a wild, clever visual comedy. Its only drawback is that the movie, towards the end, gets a little too carried away with its visual tricks.
Michael Cera, who has never seemed more comfortable in a role before, stars as Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old slacker dweeb living in Toronto, Canada. He leads a garage rock band of even dweebier slackers including his ex-girlfriend, Kim Pine (the wonderfully droll Alison Pill), Stephen Stills (Mark Weber), and Young Neil (Johnny Simmons). Just like a video game, the movie introduces each of its characters with a black box on the screen containing the name, the character’s age, and a distinguishing trait. Scott actually starts out as a bit of a jerk, as he is casually dating a 17-year-old girl, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), merely to stop himself from being lonely from his break-up with his last girlfriend, Julie (Brie Larson), much to the chagrin of his sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick). There is also his gay roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), who draws some big laughs in his unusual forwardness with some guys he is introduced to.
Then, enter the American girl of Scott’s dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is kind of like a younger, more deadpan version of the Kate Winslet character from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In a hilariously lousy pickup attempt, he tries to get a rise out of her by explaining Pacman was supposed to have the “a” replaced with a “u” but was not because it would sound too close to the swear word. After he finds that she works as a package deliverer for online shopping, he orders a package to see her again and, as seen in the trailer, she finally says yes to going out on a date with him just to get a signature for his package.
As the high concept premise goes, he then finds that he has to battle Ramona’s evil exes in true video game style before he can be together with her. The battle with the first ex, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), sets the tone for the movie where it seamlessly combines fanciful visual and sound effects of pows, bangs, booms, and crashes with surprisingly impressively choreographed martial arts. The ante is then raised with every successive ex, including actor Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), punk rocker Roxy (Mae Whitman), the Katayanagi twins, Kyle and Ken (Keita Saitou and Shota Saito), and record producer Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzmann).