I enjoy outrageous movie ideas, but the one for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World sounded like a gamble. Ultra-mild-mannered Michael Cera smacks down bad boys like in an old-school video game. Sounds potentially cringeworthy, right?
The actual picture ends up being continuously imaginative. Spastic director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) squeezes down Bryan O’Malley’s six graphic novels without diluting the pop culture in-jokes. It’s goofy fun for fanboys and fangirls.
Scott Pilgrim (Cera), shy bassist for Toronto garage band Sex Bob-omb, falls hopelessly in love with rollerblading Amazon.com delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She acts chilly to his clumsy approaches at first, but seems willing to give him a chance. Unfortunately, Scott’s forgotten to dump Chinese girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) first. He eventually wills up the courage to do it, but truly getting rid of her won’t be that easy. Even more hazardous are Ramona’s seven super-powered exes led by Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) who want to swat him into the next country.
Winning the award for pop-culture nerdiness, the jokes reference video games, anime, music, comics, movies and TV. The film’s probably funnier the more you know about the first three. With brightly colored hair and oversized hammer, Ramona looks like a rave music fan or a fighter from the Final Fantasy game franchise. The storyline includes pieces of many Japanese anime cartoons where competing lovers literally combat each other.
Michael Cera plays Scott like his previous movie roles, but more bizarrely neurotic. This time around, the supporting actors threaten to steal the movie away from Cera. Kieran Culkin’s portrayal of Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells is the most notable. His drunken outbursts and parade of gay boyfriends lead to the best running gags. Aubrey Plaza shines also as snobby Julie Powers who holds down multiple jobs so she can hound and brand Scott a loser wherever he goes. Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four) and Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) who’ve played heroes before, turn up as bumbling villains. Routh’s bad guy banter eclipses Cera’s funniest lines in the movie.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World blasts forward with campy, surreal visuals many of which are inspired by comic-book pages. Sound effects are drawn onscreen as words or squiggly lines, adding lots of manic energy to scenes, such as when Sex Bob-omb performs a song. When Scott hits his head against a tree after screwing up with Ramona, they cap his pain off perfectly.
Scott’s world, though live-action, doesn’t exist in reality. Fights end with losers shattering into Canadian coins (loonies and toonies specifically). If that doesn’t give you a clue, please stop taking whatever drugs you are on. This version of Toronto operates like a Nintendo game from 1988 when punches emitted heat blasts and points racked up onscreen. Naturally, I couldn’t suspend disbelief, but maybe it’s not that important. I found Michael Cera’s gravity-defying kung fu oddly thrilling since it was as well choreographed as The Matrix.
Basing the movie around a man beating up seven ex-lovers screams annoying repetition. So the film comes up with funny variations to keep the idea intriguing. For instance, Scott defeats a couple of Ramona’s DJ exes with the help of Sex Bob-omb. He wins, not with fists, but the power of rock. The scene gives new meaning to the term “power chord”.
The plot however is the weak point of the movie. It can’t keep up with the furious visuals and doesn’t build enough chemistry between Scott and Ramona. I find the idea of headbutting your past relationships into coins unusually entertaining. But the movie is missing the finishing move to a great combo.