The idea of a comic book movie can sometimes be a blessing or can sometimes be as excruciating as any other bad movie in the bunch. But with Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he has done something that I initially thought was impossible. He has taken the ideas of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Oni Press graphic novels and has literally transformed it onto the big screen as a live-action video game. In a summer where routine is usually the order of the day, this is one of two movies that will have you walking out of the theater saying these words: “It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
The title character of Scott Pilgrim is played by Michael Cera in a performance that seems tailor-made for him but unlike some of his previously similar roles, this is the one that requires him to be a dick to a number of other characters. It is this trait that sets this character apart from some of the other roles he’s played and I think it works out fantastically well.
The story of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World centers on Scott’s precious little life. As the story opens, he is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) much to the chagrin of everyone around him. For a while, he thinks this is quite a good thing (especially since he’s been getting over a bad break up that occurred over a year earlier) but all of that changes when his eye catches the beautiful Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and he becomes obsessed. Once he is able to ask her out, it’s about this time that he discovers that she has seven evil ex’s and that if they want to date, he’s going to have to finish them off himself or else he might not live to enjoy Ramona’s company.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a live action Super Mario Bros. with so many in-jokes and references interspersed in-between that it kind of feels like Edgar Wright’s TV series Spaced. At the same time it comes across as something so mind-blowing that it completely redefines what a movie can be in your eyes. As long as you are willing to accept that this movie lives in its own World that is actually somewhat outside our real one, then you’ll be eating up every frame you see.
One of the other great things about the film are the terrific supporting performances that are seen throughout. Anna Kendrick (as Scott’s sister), Allison Pill (as Kim, Scott’s first ex-girlfriend and current drummer of his band), Jason Schwartzman (as the big boss), and Aubrey Plaza (as girl-with-issues Julie Powers) all have moments that they steal and make their own (especially Plaza, who manages to do something terrific with her mouth that is just hilarious), but the true scene stealer is none other than Kieren Culkin, who plays Scott’s gay roommate Wallace Wells. Every little line or moment is one that he manages to steal and make it his own. It’s a terrific supporting performance and he and Cera do have wonderful chemistry too. You actually believe that these two are roommates who understand their boundaries. He even has one of the film’s best lines: “What a perfect asshole. Forget what I said earlier. Finish him!”
And speaking of the dialogue, the screenplay (by Wright and Michael Bacall) is flat-out fantastic. There are so many winning lines throughout the film that it just boggles the mind on how good some of them are (and oddly enough, a lot of the lines come from the source). Some of my favorite lines come from Schawartzman (There’s just something about the way he says a line like “Music to my ear holes” or even just expressing how he feels about swallowing his gum that is just flat-out funny). A standout scene though takes place in the third battle (which is with Todd Ingram, played by an almost-unrecognizable Brandon Routh). It has to do with how he is a vegan and what consequences lie when you don’t act like one. Be sure to be on the lookout for a couple of cameos in that scene that take it to another level entirely.
Mention must also be made about the music throughout the film. Since Scott is part of a band called Sex Bob-omb, the movie would be nothing without its songs. Their songs are written by Beck and every single one of their songs are winners. My personal favorite of theirs is a song called “Threshold” which is just a rockin’ great track that feels so in line with all of the action of the film. But it’s not the best song on the soundtrack. That honor goes to a spectacular love ballad called “Ramona.” Even though you hear a little bit of the song about halfway through the film when Scott plays it for Ramona, all you hear is the chorus and that’s it. Her line “I can’t wait to hear it when it’s done” is made true when you hear the song come to life late in the film with orchestra and drums. It’s just a perfect complement to the rest of the film.
I will admit that the film is not for everyone though. Even if you love video games it is all possible that the film might wear you out by the end of it. It is a mind trip that will take you into its world and you’ll either like it or hate it. Still though, I think we can all agree on one thing. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and for me, it ranks among the best films of the year. In a summer full of disappointments (not including Toy Story 3 and Inception), it stands tall as the best film of the summer and also the best film of the year.
Rated PG-13, 113 minutes. Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.