Like Speed Racer before it, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World takes a less-than-mainstream animated property and blows it up into an eye-popping feature for the silver screen. And like Speed Racer before it (but less deservedly so), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has received a drubbing at the box office.
But that seems to be what it takes to get to geek heaven (the traditional Universal Studios intro and music play in pixelated 8-bit video-game form before the feature), and director Edgar Wright cannot possibly have any regrets after completing this thoroughly inventive study in visual kineticism.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Directed by Edgar Wright
Based on the comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and instantly destined to become a cult classic, Wright’s latest oddball genre-bender reimagines dating, attraction, and the politics of love as a violent video-game in which 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must defeat the seven evil exes of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in order to win her over.
Meanwhile, he has to keep his Sex Bob-Omb bandmates (including his own ex, Kim) motivated in order to win a record contract in an upcoming battle of the bands and prevent any fireworks over the fact that he’s dating a teenage highschooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who of course can’t be allowed to find out about Ramona.
First and foremost, Michael Cera is Michael Cera (as always). For the most part it seems to work for this character – though when it doesn’t, it really rankles – but Cera could be reading his Juno or Superbad scripts much of the time and it wouldn’t make any difference. Winstead, on the other hand, either disappears into or just naturally embodies the role of Ramona.
The stellar supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Hollywood’s first multiple superhero Chris Evans, Brandon “Superman Returns” Routh, a hilarious Kieran Culkin as Scott’s supportive-gay-roommate stereotype, Up In The Air’'s Anna Kendrick as his saucy sister, and an uncredited joint cameo by Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr. as the most preposterous enforcement officials this side of The Hangover.
But if its trace elements are familiar – Zombieland’s sardonically plucky narrator (and Tarantino-derived visual text gags), 300 and Watchmen’s frame-by-frame comic-book referentiality, the overarching irreverence of Kick-Ass, and the Snatch-like slam-bam editing that has become Wright's signature – Scott Pilgrim is nevertheless very much its own beast.
There are giant, music-engendered dragons, expertly choreographed melees in which sword-slit bad guys explode into bonus coins, and shades and flashes of everything from Zelda to Seinfeld and The Matrix, to the point where it seems to transcend pastiche altogether to a sort of fever-dream democracy of allusion (Pilgrim also seems intermittently to be competing with Mike Myers’s Goldmember and Cronenberg’s Chloe for highest density of Toronto references).
Despite its undeniable, unbridled energy, there are points at which the madness stops and Scott Pilgrim feels a bit like it’s just going through the motions – but this is usually a period of about 15 seconds before we jump-cut to some sort of frenzied action scene. If there is a low point, it has got to be the music, which roundly fails to excite despite including new tracks by Metric and Beck.
Visually overwhelming and fiercely original (though during a few brief periods it seems as though maybe Wright simply tried to rewrite School of Rock on hard drugs), Scott Pilgrim is a hyperkinetic anthem for the ADD generation.