Michael Cera, saddest of the sad sack hipsters, must fight a squad of evil ex-es to win the heart of the alternagirl apple of his eye in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a dizzying circus of a movie.
Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is in his twenties but dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and shares a room — so small that he actually shares a bed — with roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). Scott’s job appears to be slacking around Toronto and playing with the band Sex Bob-omb, which is not thrilled when he starts bringing Knives to practice. Soon, however, Scott is over his infatuation with young Knives and into Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a taciturn young woman who works at Amazon and has ever-changing hair colors. She also has seven evil ex-es who, because the most recent ex is eager to have her back, have declared a series of duels against Scott Pilgrim if he wants to be with her. A discovery that is a mixed bag for him — on the one hand, that’s a lot of fighting for somebody who looks like Michael Cera. On the other hand, it means he and Ramona are, at least on some level, dating.
Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) is Ramona’s most recent ex, the one who wants her back. Other exes include an action star and a superhuman yet not terribly bright rocker (Brandon Routh, who just keeps getting more fun).
Close your eyes and Scott Pilgrim sounds like an arcade. An arcade where they play indie music. Which is on purpose — the visual style of this movie is all comic books (its source material) and video games. When Scott is able to defeat an ex, he is rewarded with a pile of coins. In the movie’s big final fight, he makes use of an additional life (thanks to a 1-Up that appears next to a pixilated, early-Nintendo-era-style version of his face) and a few powers that he gains thanks to things like discovering self-respect. It is cute, funny and occasionally really annoying. This is one of the few movies where an enthusiastic crowd pretty handily got in the way of my enjoying the movie. Shut up, crowd, I kept thinking. This movie is by itself a marching band, some elephants and a Mini Cooper full of clowns. It does not need a whooping audience to keep things energized. Which means I don’t know what, in terms of your — vs. my — movie-going experience. Perhaps those coming fresh to this story, not readers of the graphic novels from whence it came, should see the movie at some quiet weekday matinee.
Edgar Wright, the director here, is also the director of Hot Fuzz and just as that movie references, skewers and loves the overheated action movie, so does this movie poke gentle fun at the things it references — video games, indie music, comic books, Toronto. It is sweet at times, delightfully smart at times — but also frequently gimmicky. I 70 percent liked what was happening and 30 percent wanted to like it, making the movie something like moderately more enjoyable than not.
Michael Cera might have exactly one speed — George Michael from Arrested Development, slightly grown up — but it works here. He is definitely believable as a guy whose sole experience at kicking butt involves a joystick (and yes, joystick — this movie has a very retro-alternative, early-1990s feel; I half expected a Nirvana reference). And what the movie lacks in magnetic leads it makes up for in delightful supporting characters — Anna Kendrick as Scott’s mildly sympathetic sister, Wong as a broken-hearted school girl, Aubrey Plaza as a nay-saying acquaintance who appears everywhere, and of course, Culkin, as a gay lothario/life mentor.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World cries out to be labeled awesome, a level it doesn’t quite reach. But it conquers “fabulously watchable” just fine. B
Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references. Directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Michael Bacall (from the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures. It opens in wide release on Friday, Aug. 13.