A FEW WEEKS AGO, if you'd have asked me what I wanted from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, my answer would've been simple: That they don't fuck it up. Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic book series is a fantastic epic: an earnest, heady mashup of comics, videogames, and music, with doses of the confusion, enthusiasm, and melancholy that're embedded in the DNA of every twentysomething.
So a movie version—even one directed by Edgar Wright, the dude behind Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Spaced—has some livin' up to do.
The good news: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World lives up to expectations. The better news: Wright's film also does a few things nobody could've predicted. If Scott Pilgrim hits—if it resonates, as I'm guessing it will—it's going to change some things. From its opening moments—when a Universal logo rendered in NES-era pixels appears—it's clear there hasn't been a movie like this before. Thanks to Scott Pilgrim, the lines between film, comics, pop music, and videogames have been blurred—in all of the best ways. Here's how.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) wants to date the badass, superhot Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but there's a catch: He has to defeat Ramona's seven evil exes. One minute Scott's playing bass with his kinda crappy, kinda great band, Sex Bob-Omb; the next, he's in a life-or-death battle with one of Ramona's furious exes. In his duels with psychic vegans, demon hipster chicks, robot-like twins, and douchey movie stars, Scott ends up relying on everyone from his awesome gay roommate Wallace Wells (a scene-stealing Kieran Culkin) to his own exes, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), Envy Adams (Brie Larson), and Kim Pine (Alison Pill).
The hilarious dialogue is lighting-fast and dead-on. The surreal plot careens forward. Ramona's exes—played by Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, and Chris Evans, amongst others—are fantastic. So's Winstead. So's everyone—even Cera, who ditches his sheepish shtick to play a Pilgrim who's at once charmingly dopey and kind of a dick.
For decades, videogames have been trying to be movies—and now here's Scott Pilgrim, a movie trying to be a videogame. Haunting music from The Legend of Zelda drifts through scenes; characters level up as they grow up; fistfights play out like bombastic brawls in Street Fighter II. Wright makes sure all this stuff translates to film, even for those who didn't sacrifice their childhoods to Nintendo—but if you did grow up clutching a sweaty NES controller in your hands, you'll get more out of Scott Pilgrim, just as you will if you give a shit about music.
Metric. Beck. Nigel Godrich. Cornelius. Dan the Automator. Frank Black. Broken Social Scene. The Rolling Stones. I'm having to think back to Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown to come up with a movie where pop songs matter as much as they do here. Scott Pilgrim's songs work as characters, as dialogue, as story beats—and when the music of Scott and Sex Bob-Omb factors into the film's fight scenes, it shifts the film into a whole other gear.
I didn't think I'd ever say, "Goddamn, how cool was that kung-fu fight between Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman?!" And yet.
Those fights are shot beautifully, but so is everything else, thanks to cinematography by Bill Pope and Wright's seamless integration of O'Malley's art and comics-style sound effects. If only for the finale, see Scott Pilgrim digitally projected; when Wright really cuts loose, the colors pop with near-hallucinogenic intensity.
JesusfuckingchristisScottPilgrimcutfast. And not in a stupid, ADD, Family Guy sort of way—no, the clever, frantic editing here supercharges the plot, clips along with songs and punches, cuts from joke to joke to joke. Think Arrested Development on fast-forward, think reading a comic while on a sugar rush, think fun. You might very well leave the theater exhausted; you'll also probably leave the theater exhilarated.
I can quibble, if that's what you're here for: Some of the melancholy from the books is gone. So is much of the depth of two of the books' best characters, Kim Pine and Envy Adams. But for what's offered in exchange? Totally a fair trade.
No doubt there'll be people who'll be happy to sneer, who'll be content to think of this film with none of the gleeful, shameless enthusiasm that it jumpstarts inside of me. Good for them, but swear to god: Anyone who sees this exuberant movie and doesn't walk out smiling, reassured of the goodness of movies and comics and games and music and life—well, suffice to say that they probably aren't anyone you'd want to meet.