California Literary Review

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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August 14th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

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Movie Poster: Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright

Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim
Alison Pill as Kim Pine
Mark Webber as Stephen Stills
Johnny Simmons as Young Neil
Ellen Wong as Knives Chau
Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells
Anna Kendrick as Stacey Pilgrim
Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Movie Still: Scott Pilgrim

Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona V. Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Edgar Wright and lovable slacker Scott Pilgrim are a match made in hipster, gamer heaven. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is the most fun you’ll have in a theater this summer.

Scott Pilgrim may be a “ladykiller wannabe” with no cash, aspirations of rock stardom, and a slightly emo outlook, but he’s also the most awesome thing in theaters this weekend. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who also cowrote the screenplay with Michael Bacall, adapted Scott Pilgrim vs. the World from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels. Wright’s style is frenetic, energetic, slightly spastic, and his favorite subject is lovable, bumbling slackers who end up saving the day—though these roles generally go to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, or both. Wright and Scott Pilgrim are a match made in hipster, gamer heaven.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is an unemployed, 22-year-old bassist in Toronto, Canada with a rating of awesome. He platonically shares a bed with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), dates a seventeen-year-old named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and is still in mourning after his last big breakup. His band Sex Bob-Omb practices all the time, and drummer Kim Pine (Allison Pill), singer Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), and hanger on Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) are eye-rollingly used to Scott’s abundant girl problems. When Scott meets the girl of his dreams—literally, as he’s dreamt about her—he’s in for trouble. Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the hipster ideal. Her short, brightly hued hair (purple, blue, and green in the movie), contrast tights, red lips, and cynical, no-nonsense attitude make her inaccessibly lovely.

Scott, ever the charmer, constantly puts his foot in his mouth around Ramona, but starts dating her anyway. Little does Scott know, before he gets anywhere with Ramona, he has to defeat her seven evil exes. Scott fights Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who has asymmetrical hair, dresses like a pirate, and pauses mid-battle for a Baliwood song and dance. Scott has a clash of the egos with Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, who purposely overacts better than almost anyone in Hollywood), an action star who dated Ramona in the ninth grade. Then there’s Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), who was part of what Scott calls Ramona’s “sexy phase.” Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh, better known to most as Superman) poses a larger problem: he’s in a sell-out band with Scott’s horrible ex-girlfriend Envy (Brie Larson), formerly known as Natalie. Then there are the Katayanagi twins (Keita Saitou and Shota Saito), who create dancing dragons of sound with their synthesizers; and finally, there’s smarmy record exec and all-around jackass Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), who planted a microchip in Ramona’s neck to keep her by his side. Before he can date Ramona, Scott has to defeat them all.

O’Malley’s books are a loving, ridiculous embrace of videogame culture. While the movie sticks pretty close to comic format, it’s also an oddly pleasing mixture of various geek media. Split screen and frames are a visual cue that the movie’s a comic brought to life (and at one point someone mutters, “They say the comic book’s much better”). Each character has a floating rating on a scale of awesomeness; when Scott urinates a pee bar appears in the upper corner of the screen, showing progress from full to empty bladder; Scott gets power-ups and new lives. Each fight starts like Mortal Kombat, characters poised on either side of the screen while a glowing “vs” spins between them. The fights themselves are a silly homage to the unreality of violence in videogames. Heavy on martial arts, flying through the air, and smashing through buildings, the battles are light on blood and bruises. In the Pilgrim-verse, like in Mortal Kombat and Super Mario, if you lose a life, you get to replay the level from the beginning.

As any avid gamer will tell you, there’s something comforting about having infinite lives and the ability to get thrown through a wall without getting hurt. There’s also something slightly creepy about ultraviolence without consequence (the scare tactics in the media would have you believe this is why “kids today” bring knives to school), and battles to the death to win a girl as if she’s a prize (think Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Brothers). Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an insanely self-aware piece of filmmaking, though, and its charm lies in its ability to subvert the gaming tropes it uses so lovingly. When a character dies, change tinkles to the floor around him and a score flashes up. “Oh hey, coins!” Scott cries at one point, grabbing at the change.

O’Malley and Wright also managed to stick their thumbs right smack dab on the hipster counterculture, poking fun at garage bands with inflated egos, unemployed emo kids who manage to make scruffiness adorable, and skinny-jeans clad boys who write navel-gazing songs about dream girls who don’t want them. Those of us who’ve met that holier-than-thou vegan kid will rejoice at the line, “Didn’t you know being vegan just makes you better than most people?” When Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins pop onscreen briefly as the Vegan Police, arresting a character for breaking vegan edge, you might clap. Finally, the use of the word “hipster” in a movie means we can all quit calling skinny-jeans clad, asymmetrically hair-styled emo kids hipsters, right? They’ll have to adopt a new name.

Scott Pilgrim as played by Michael Cera is still very much Michael Cera, the slightly twee, indie man-boy who wooed audiences with his infinite awkwardness in “Arrested Development,” Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Paper Heart. The other roles are small caricatures—and they will make you laugh. Allison Pill’s hooded eyes, monotone voice, and penchant for miming shooting herself in the head will make you smile. Chris Evans’ and Brandon Routh’s all-American pretty boy looks and overacting are pitch-perfect. Wright’s directorial and cinematic style is perfectly suited for a story with such frenetic, nonstop energy. He does slackers and gamers better than anyone else working right now, and he knows the material from whence the story comes. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World combines hilarious writing, great fight scenes, tongue-in-cheek reference, and a fast-paced story with lovable characters, and it’s by far the most fun you’ll have in a theater this summer.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Trailer

  • Xavier

    So… with nothing negative said, where did the other star go?

  • http://calitreview.com Julia R

    I have yet to see a movie that is pure, unadulterated perfection. Since I’ve been reviewing for CLR, Inception came closest to that when I thought about editing, score, plot, and acting. Although I enjoy Scott Pilgrim–and will probably buy it for repeated viewing–I’m not really comfortable giving anything 5 stars unless it completely blows my mind. Scott Pilgrim is a solid B+ film, but it’s probably not destined to join the ranks of Citizen Kane and The Godfather. The top-rated film on IMDb (The Shawshank Redemption) is only rated 9.1/10…I think that’s indicative of the way a rating system works. Interestingly, Inception is #4, rated 9.0.

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