Film Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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The world on his shoulders

(Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Edgar Wright, USA, 2010, 112 minutes)

Michael Cera is quickly becoming the go-to guy of Hollywood comedy. Unquestionably the breakout star of the ingenious if misunderstood Arrested Development, his career has been on a (pretty much) upward trajectory ever since. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World sees everyones’  favourite lovable nerd take on a bigger task than anything previous, not only is he the leading man in the summer’s biggest Hollywood comedy, he also has to take on the most action packed role of his career so far. Fortunately for those who have been eagerly awaiting the film’s release both Cera, and the movie as a whole, work perfectly.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World begins with our titular hero playing in a garage band, jobless, sharing a bed with his gay best friend and dating a high school girl named Knives Chow, never has Cera had to play such a hopeless, clueless character. Scott begins to feel alone until a dream reveals to him a girl on roller-skates with brightly coloured hair. When he discovers that the girl of his dreams is real, has recently moved to his home town and is named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he ignores his commitment to Knives and pursues Ramona, eventually convincing her to date him. All is going well until Scott discovers that, in order to be with Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes, and this is where the fun begins…

Quirky tongue-in-cheek comic book adaptations seem to be the in thing in Hollywood at the moment and, in terms of tone, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World picks up where Kick-Ass left off, charmingly irreverent but never lapsing into the ludicrous, maintaining a heartfelt and at times touching love story amidst all the carnage. Visually, however, it surpasses anything we have been treated to this summer. From the simmering acid-trip glow of the opening titles Scott Pilgrim explodes onto the screen, vibrating with the energy of its constant movement but never seeming cluttered or untidy, as scenes and settings flow seamlessly into one another. The film plays like a video game trapped within a comic book trapped within a music video trapped within a movie, as each eyeball bursting scene, set to a punk rock soundtrack surpasses the previous one in terms of visual spectacle. A neon light battle between a two-headed dragon and a giant gorilla is a particular highlight. However, far from being a merely visual spectacle, the special effects display the kind of love for video games that surrounds and permeates the whole film. Each fight scene begins with a stand off that is reminiscent of so many early 90s beat ‘em ups, and when Scott defeats an enemy he is rewarded with coins. There are too many of these moments to list them all, but each one lends the film the kind of charm that so many movies based on video games have completely failed to achieve, despite not being based on a game, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World could easily be said to be the best video game movie ever made. Video games are not the only influence here and, though I must confess I have not read the comic on which the film is based, the comic-book influence is undeniable, from the split screen framing of character’s reactions to their thoughts being expressed in words next to their heads. Huge credit must go to Edgar Wright for his use of both video games and comic books to put his film together; to attempt to weld together not one but two stylistic influences with a movie is daring, to pull it off so successfully is commendable.

This is not to say that the film is rooted merely in the visual, as this would take away due credit from the performances of the film’s cast. Though, as I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of pressure is on Michael Cera to perform (which he does, very well) some of this pressure is alleviated by his superb supporting cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Ramona Flowers as mysterious and alluring, yet sweet and vulnerable. Kieran Culkin, as Scott’s roommate Wallace provides not only the film’s funniest lines but some good moral support for Scott when he needs it most. Ellen Wong is the film’s breakout star as Knives Chow, managing to be both slightly unnerving and unbearably cute, it is difficult not to feel sorry for her as a jilted love interest, and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh both turn in scene stealing displays as two of Ramona’s evil exes.

While some of the film’s action does become a touch repetitive towards the end, there is always some kind of twist in the formula to keep the battle sequences relatively fresh, and despite how over the top the action is, the film’s message about growing up and taking responsibility for our actions towards others still resonates well. But Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is not asking us to linger for too long on anything too serious, it is the blockbuster the summer has been crying out for, a firework display of a film overflowing with the kind of slacker comedy that made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so successful, and imbedded with the kind of heart that makers of more serious comic book adaptations would do well to take note of.

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