The world that Scott Pilgrim faces off against is not our own. It’s a world where a man can be thrown against a building without being all that hurt, a world where a girl can pull a giant sledge hammer out of her purse before fighting the remnants of her experimental phase in college, a world where the comic book-style letters R-I-N-G float from the telephone when a call comes in.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a slacker who plays bass in a band, sleeps in the same bed as his roommate and dates a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Then, the girl of his dreams (literally) Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) roller skates into his life and inexplicably falls for him. Unfortunately, dating her means facing off against her seven evil exes in seven evil battles to the death.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a mash up of pop culture from the past 40 years that’s wound up in a tight package and set to detonate. It’s structured like any video game in the classic hero’s journey model of fighting mini-bosses before the ultimate baddie. That ultimate baddie is Gideon Graves – a record executive and Ramona’s most recent, most psychologically abusive ex.
Director Edgar Wright makes Attention Deficit Disorder into a thing of beauty here – tossing out convention while playing around with it. The visuals are stunning and range from the simplest of blacks on whites to the electric kool-aid acid of your favorite video game from 1993. That same technical proficiency bleeds throughout every aspect of the film whether it be the bass-thumping soundtrack or the mimicry of comic book panels that create what can only be described as a smooth freneticness between the film’s scenes.
The acting here is truly an ensemble achievement. Michael Cera suffers slightly from his own type-casting, but he’s ultimately the perfect embodiment of the lovable, air-headed slacker. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the next entry into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Hall of Fame. However, it’s the rest of the cast that elevates the entire flick. Kieran Culkin steals scenes. Ellen Wong steals scenes. Anna Kendrick steals scenes. Brandon Routh steals scenes. The list goes on right down the line because the talent assembled here is ideal – each actor fitting perfectly into the character they create.
The technicolor dream world is invaded by top notch fight choreography that sees the stakes and the high kicks sufficiently raised with each new battle. The fireballs and psychic blasts aren’t explained, and they don’t have to be – it all mirrors the same feeling we have when we find our dream girl or guy. The world becomes a bit more animated, and for Scott Pilgrim, a life of slackerdom manifests that animation in video game and comic book form.
There’s no time to catch a breath, even after laughing hard enough to miss whole segments of dialogue. The movie, for it’s benefit, is sensical enough to keep the flow going, but damn is it fast. The down time is spent with male characters who are sweet and cocky, and female characters who pick up the dead pan and smack Scott down with it. They are all essential in getting him to get his proverbial act together.
The film doesn’t quite lead down a logically fulfilling path, which is unfortunate for a movie that does so much genuine work to be endearing. Still, that’s not the end of Scott Pilgrim’s World. Over all, the movie is a wound up fastball of joy, and it’s all wrapped up in a neat little package of self-awareness, classic style humor, and a huge heart that is made out of pixels.
The Upside: The casting is perfect, the action is intense, and the innovation of style is the mark of great creative craftsmanship.
The Downside: A rushed feel for an ending.
On the Side: The last issue of the comic book by Bryan Lee O’Malley that the movie is based on was just released last week.
Editor’s Note: This review originally ran just minutes after midnight on July 23rd, 2010 from the Comic-Con screening of the film.