Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is super fresh, ultra hip and totally fun. And if that sounds too immature or too flippant, well then too flippin’ bad. Scott Pilgrim is an unabashed celebration of juvenile obsessions—a gloriously ill-spent summer afternoon of comic books, video games and Pop Rocks.
Based on the cult hit indie graphic novel series of the same name by Bryan Lee O'Malley, SPvTW introduces us to the titular Mr. Pilgrim (embodied in the flesh by Juno’s Michael Cera). At age 23, Scott hasn’t progressed very far in life—socially or geographically. The self-absorbed Canadian slacker lives in a one-room apartment across the street from his parents’ house. He’s currently “between jobs.” He does play bass in a wannabe garage band, but they have yet to play a venue larger than the lead guitarist’s living room. Oh, and he’s dating a high schooler.
Mind you, Scott isn’t a total jerk. He hasn’t even kissed 17-year-old Knives Chau (wide-eyed cutie Ellen Wong). He just likes the “simplicity” of dating a naive, worshipful teen. Growing up is clearly not on Scott’s “to do” list. But all that changes when he meets the female of his dreams (literally) in the form of roller-skating delivery girl Ramona Flowers (teen scream queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead, landing her most worthy role to date). Scott is powerfully attracted to Ramona. (She’s American and has blue hair—who can blame him?) But there are a couple serious impediments to their hooking up. First of all is the fact that Scott sucks at breaking up with girls and can’t quite find the words to explain to poor little Knives why their relationship is doomed. The second problem is somewhat more unusual.
In order to date Ramona, Scott must face and defeat each and every one of Ramona’s seven evil ex-lovers in video-game-style mortal combat. Basically, this is a romantic comedy as filtered through the PlayStation Network—a John Hughes film in which characters unleash superpowers, create visible “Batman”-like sound effects and explode into showers of gold coins when pummeled out of existence. Like O’Malley’s comic before it, SPvTW is a crazy quilt of pop cultural references. If you grew up during the 16-bit generation, you'll get a lot of the film’s inside jokes. (The name of Scott’s band? Sex Bob-omb.) Then again, if you don't know an SNES from a Dreamcast, you're still likely to grasp the film’s generally irreverent mashup of video games, indie music, anime, comic books, television sitcoms, internet-inspired hypertext and whatever else seems cool at the moment.
As written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Scott Pilgrim is as much a parody/homage to film as it is to other pop cultural memes. As Scott battles his way through Ramona’s crazy collection of onetime suitors, he runs up against an array of archetypes. There’s the Emo-tastic Indian kid (Satya Bhabha) whose fight turns into a full-fledged Bollywood number. There’s the egotistical skater-turned-actor (Fantastic Four’s Chris Evans). There’s the smug vegan musician with fantastic karmic powers (Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh). And there’s the supremely evil music promoter behind the League of Evil-Exes (Jason Schwartzman, having some serious fun). Like Stephen Chow's Looney Toons-meets-martial arts film Kung Fu Hustle, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World believes combat involves more than just hands and feet. Take, for example, the “battle of the bands” scene in which twin DJs conjure sound-wave monsters to fight for them. Ridiculous, inspired, totally fitting.
The cast is a dream. Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down), Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air) and Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) add mightily to the lively ensemble. O’Malley’s original six-part paperback is full-to-bursting with characters, and Wright’s condensation does an admirable job of including as many as possible. Initially, there was some concern how Cera—frequently typecast as the underconfident nerd—would do as the somewhat douchey, combat-hardened heartbreaker Scott Pilgrim. But he does fine, twisting Scott into an amoral ladies’ man hiding behind a sensitive boy facade. His wiry frame just makes the film’s frequent, physics-defying combat scenes all the more fantastical.
There’s every reason to believe Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will become a major object of cult worship. It may be destined for a niche audience, but that niche audience will love its infectious energy, its idiosyncratic look, its surprisingly heartfelt romance and its mad absorption of all things awesome. After all, any film that can name-drop “Seinfeld,” “DuckTales” and The Legend of Zelda is full of win in my book.