Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a visual masterpiece, Edgar Wright’s finest cinematic showing in terms of special effects mastery, the integration of stylized comic-book tropes and the amazing impossibility of wrangling a monstrously talented cast that performs above and beyond the call of duty. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim is a throwback to Arrested Development‘s George Michael, and while many would claim that he’s been rehashing that same generic melancholy youth for years now, Scott Pilgrim would change that impression, albeit subtly. There is a beautiful and charming way in which Cera commands the comedic punchline-heavy comic strip dialog in this picture, and his youthful innocence shines through in a way that it never could have in say, Nick & Nora’s Infamous Shamefest.  The rest of the cast is charismatic and crush-worthy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza providing enough alternating attractiveness and affability to let the film’s weaker punchlines slide. Even supporting cast members like Scott’s band-mates find moments to stand out and make themselves memorable amidst all the comic book chaos, creating a universe that fans and newcomers alike can easily see themselves revisiting.

Knives Chau, played by Ellen Wong, has a lot of funny and cute moments, but they’re mostly relegated to the second half of the movie after Scott’s relationship with Ramona fires up and her seven evil exes come into play. The fights are energetic and enjoyable, mixing motifs from Street Fighter, Dance Dance Revolution and graphic novels to visually underscore the sheer awesomeness abounding in every frame.  Lovable is the key word I would use to describe this picture, and as someone who had never read a single Scott Pilgrim comic I was immediately won over to the characters, the brilliant interplay of dialog and the fun of watching absolutely ridiculous things appear on screen.  It’s a rare occurrence, and in the same way that the Wachowski Bros. packed Speed Racer with mind-bending visual concepts that were ahead of their time, Edgar Wright does them one better by packing his film with a story as interesting as the acid-trip cinematic effects that Wright packs into every sequence.

There’s so much humor here delivered at such a pace that there is little time for true romance, a slight downside.  I would have liked more moments where the jokes parted waves to allow for real romance. I understand Wright’s hesitance to slow down his comic book picture with schmaltz, but I believe he underestimates his own ability to capture the audience’s heart for a moment. Even a few brief non-quippy moments could have served the film well, possibly pushing it beyond “great movie” into “masterpiece” on the story level, as well as the visual one.  I don’t want to spoil too much by explaining how the romance plays out but everything structurally functions perfectly, aside from a few moments that run long.  (The cut of Scott Pilgrim I saw was like a delicious Dagwood sandwich with just a few too many pieces of pastrami.) Believe me, true believers, there’s plenty of ridiculous, explosive combat to be found here.  The only thing that’s missing is a little more authentic sweetness.

The one thing you cannot claim about Scott Pilgrim is that it is boring. There is almost too much happening, but in the exact opposite way of Revenge of the Fallen where all of it was bad. Because of the nature of tackling seven villains in a single movie, some of them fall by the wayside. The movie should have taken more liberties with the number of exes and cut them down to the few that matter, because I feel like some of the characters seemed a little corny and one-note. Again, this movie is unstoppably funny, but I’m nitpicking at details that really could have been tweaked to make it applicable for all ages. The visual style of Scott Pilgrim is easily a cutting-edge integration of story and effects that should be considered for practical application at the advent of new three-dimension home video technology, but it, like Speed Racer before it, is a little too frenetic to capture the minds and hearts of audiences beyond a certain age group. There is a generation gap between those who understand the Legend of Zelda sound effects in the background and those who just hear bleeps and bloops. The charm of Scott Pilgrim relies on your preconceived knowledge of geek and pop culture, and if you’re out of the loop, it makes few concessions to slow down or censor itself.

For all these reasons, I love Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and think it is Edgar Wright’s finest film amongst many fine ones. It is the next step in the evolution of a multi-talented director and the multi-teared layered casting of the modern comedy. Rather than powerhouse leads dominating every scene, a variety of actors are given the opportunities to showcase their finest skills at the benefit of everyone. I cannot wait to see this movie for the second time.