Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Michael Cera & cast of Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Pay close attention whilst watching ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ as you will probably be tested on it later. Friends will use quotes from the film and may appear crestfallen if you do not recognise their provenance. The top prize on the quiz machine in your local could one day depend on you knowing such trivia as the name of the title character’s rock band.  In short, this is a movie that is destined to enjoy cult status.

The film already has a host of fans eagerly anticipating its arrival. There are some among them who practically worship the previous work of the film’s director, Edgar Wright, namely the comic excellence of ‘Sean of the Dead,’ ‘Hot Fuzz’ and the TV show ‘Spaced.’  There are others who think the comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which form the basis for the Scott Pilgrim film, are literary masterpieces.

Much rests on the reception that the film gets from the ‘fan boy’ crowd; if the on-screen Scott Pilgrim does not rock their world then the web forums will drip with bile.  I do not consider myself a part of this section of the audience, even if genetically speaking I am ten percent geek, but I still loved ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.’  The film is smart, crazy, exciting and very, very funny.  There were several times during the movie where I actually laughed out loud.  This is a rare phenomenon these days as my chuckle muscles have atrophied as the result of one too many Jennifer Lopez rom-coms.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a twenty-three year old, living in Toronto, who shows no signs of growing up.  His life revolves around playing video games and the bass in a band called ‘Sex Bob-omb’ (jackpot!) As the film opens, Scott is dating a seventeen year old catholic schoolgirl called ‘Knives’ Chau (Ellen Wong), much to the chagrin of his friends.  “Has she got the uniform and everything,” his discouraging sister, played by Anna Kendrick, asks. Then, Scott meets a blue-haired roller skating Venus, with the delightful name of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and everything starts getting weird.  Following initial disaster, when Scott bores Ramona with his Pac-man trivia, his new dream girl eventually agrees to a date.

Ramona comes with serious baggage in the form of her ex-boyfriends (and one girlfriend) who have teamed up to take on Scott in mortal combat. These are no ordinary exes as they are imbued with special powers which might make the X-Men jealous.

Scott finds himself drawn into a series of duels, conducted in the manner of traditional computer game punch-ups complete with accompanying graphics and sound effects, which he must win in order to hold onto Ramona.  If that were not enough trouble, Knives Chau is out for vengeance on her cheating boyfriend and Sex Bob-omb has been entered into a Battle of the Bands which could net them a record contract.

A great deal of the joy in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ comes from the far-too-many-to-count visual jokes which would take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. The screen is littered with witty captions, sight gags and amusing cartoon onomatopoeia of the ‘zap-wham-pow’ variety. The film never strays far from its comic book roots but there are a number of influences here, including retro-arcade gaming, kung-fu movies and Japanese animation.

Dig beneath all the razzle-dazzle and this is actually a pretty intelligent film.  The seemingly unwarranted challenges issued by Ramona’s exes could be read as a clever allegory for Scott’s need to deal not only with Ramona’s past but also with his own insecurities.  The bad guys are generally cooler, more morally righteous or talented than Scott and by battling them he is proving to himself that he is worthy of Ramona. The story is a modern day Greek odyssey, by way of Canada, only with our hero battling ex-paramours instead of gods or monsters.  In common with such fables, the way to take down the enemy is through quick wits and trickery rather than pure brute strength.

Like some Greek heroes, Scott has personal flaws which could well undermine him. He is not an especially likeable guy at first, certainly not in the way he treats his girlfriends, so he has to accept some lessons along the way. As any video game-player knows, the way to win is to learn from your errors and do better next time around.

Michael Cera is appealingly gawky as Scott and he can now add martial arts skills to his movie résumé. There are actually quite a few marvellous performances in the film, including Kieran Culkin as Scott’s waspish, gay flatmate and Jason Schwartzman as Gideon Graves, the most powerful of the  villains who also happens to hold the fate of Sex Bob-omb in his hands.

‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ is hugely entertaining and also extremely cool but not self-consciously so.  Being young is not a requirement to enjoy this film, as long as you can handle the volume and fast pace; a remembrance of youth will do just fine.  This is one Pilgrim whose progress is well worth following.

Release date: August 25th
Rated: 12A

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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