Adapted from the comic book series by Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World offers the ultimate postmodern geek mash-up of pop culture, taking it’s aesthetic and narrative cues mostly from the world of video games. Not the sprawling, highly cinematic video games currently being played, but more the 8-bit arcade classics of the 80s and 90s. It’s an ultra-stylised, visual bombardment that moves at a breakneck pace, and proves much more successful than the similar attempt a couple of years back by The Wachowski Brothers with Speed Racer.
The premise couldn’t be more simple. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), otherwise unemployed bass player in the band Sex Bob-Omb, must defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of uber cool new girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her over. And that’s about it. The plot progresses much like the levels of a video game, with each of the seven exes stronger than the last, and each disintegrating in a cascade of coins and level-ups upon defeat.
The script refreshingly avoids the kind of knowingly hip teen-speak of the likes of Juno or Clueless, but at the same time never really pauses for breath to allow any real depth to the characters. I’m not saying there aren’t some good performances, Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay room mate is a highlight, as is Brandon Routh’s evil ex Todd, who derives his telekinetic superpowers from his veganism (“Vegetarian? No. Ova-lacto vegetarian? Maybe”), it’s just we’re never more than a few seconds away from another crash/smash/whip pan edit, hurtling us into the next scene. You’re never given enough time to stop and care for any of the characters, but I guess that’s the point, although a lot will depend on your feelings for Michael Cera’s style of acting. I say style of acting, but I’ve yet to see him play anything different from what he’s playing here.
Edgar Wright directs with a fistful of energy, which strongly recalls the flavour of his TV series Spaced, and every penny of the film’s $60 million budget is on the screen. There are nods to the likes of The Matrix, Kill Bill vol. 1, the Adam West Batman series and even Seinfeld, but I was most reminded of Stephen Chow’s brilliant Kung Fu Hustle with its’ cartoon-like fight scenes (and even Chia-Liang Lu’s Dirty Ho in the Scott/Ramona fight against the evil lesbian ex).
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World pitches to a pretty specific demographic though, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it does in terms of business, and whilst it’s executed with a loving wink to it’s progenitors, it ultimately lacks the self-referential wit of Kick Ass with which there will be (albeit superficial) comparisons.
At 112 minutes it may be over-long, but as noisy, sugar-coated visual extravaganzas go, it’s up there with the best this summer. Just don’t watch it with a hangover.