Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review

Satire works best when it focuses its jibes on a target that takes itself seriously. One of the big problems with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is that it takes aim at video games. And video games are just that: games. They aren’t meant to be heady art. Director Edgar Wright’s previous two films (Shaun of the Dead; Hot Fuzz) were hysterically funny because they were satirizing proper, established film genres. Video games are a hard target because they are so chaotic and over-the-top by design.

The original series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, on which the film is based, was a clever parody on Japanese Manga and Anime. O’Malley’s comics captured the mystique of its targets, which is what made them so good. The nerdy but capable young hero who has a hot girlfriend with a secret that disrupts his life is a standard Manga/Anime plot, used in fan favorites like Tenchi Muyo and Urusei Yatsura.

In the film, however, Wright has decided (probably with some justification) that American audiences aren’t familiar enough with the style and substance of Japanese animation to understand the gags. Therefore, the focus of the film was changed to make it a satire of something US fans are more intimately familiar with: video games.

Watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like watching someone else play a video game. You have no control of the game so you can only look on as Scott goes through the “levels” of opponents, battling with the type of exaggerated, unreal violence that typifies computer games. There are lots of video game “Easter eggs” dropped into the film. You see the points being tolled up on screen after each battle; there are brief video style blurbs to introduce each new character; and when a fighter falls in battle, he is transformed into loose change.

The plot follows our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, who has made a career of playing the nerdy underdog) of Toronto, Canada, who seems on paper like a loser but yet is remarkably successful with women. Scott is the bass playing 22-year-old of a struggling garage band, Sex Bob-Omb, and lives rent-free in the apartment of his gay roommate Wallace (played excellently by a scene-stealing Keiran Culkin), while dating a high school girl named Knives Chow (Ellen Wong). He is frequently scolded by his more mature sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) who wants him to man up and be an adult. Sweet little Knives, on the other hand, thinks Scott and his mediocre band are the coolest thing since Guns n' Roses. Scott has a beautiful ex-girlfriend named Envy (Brie Larson) who has become a major singing star and Scott is still stinging from the break-up.

All this becomes secondary to Scott once he lays eyes on Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the cute new girl in town, who rides around on skates and keeps a dispassionate distance from the rest of the locals. Scott somehow manages to get past her guard with his not-very-obvious charms. While he is triumphantly happy to have Ramona on the hook, he is also reluctant to break up with his adoring girlfriend Knives, so he tries to balance both girls.

But there are worse problems in store for Scott. Ramona has seven jilted lovers who she’s dumped over the years. They have united as The League of Evil Exes, whose purpose is to ruin all Ramona’s future relationships by destroying anyone she dates. And now Scott is their target.

The exes are the most entertaining thing about this movie. They include Todd (Played by Brandon ‘I-used-to-be-Superman’ Routh) as a musician who gets his powers from a Vegan lifestyle; Lucas Lee (Played by former Human Torch and future Captain America Chris Evans), a movie action star; And Gideon Gordon Graves (Played with playful humor by Jason Schwartzman) the music mogul who formed and leads the League.

The surreal violence of computer games is compatible with the cartoonish combat scenes of Manga and Anime, so it all blends well. The film’s roots show, if you’re a fan of Anime. But it’s all disguised under the mask of a two-hour video game. The film parodies other things as well. There is a scene with a laugh track that lampoons sitcoms. And when sound effects pop-up on screen as words, it becomes reminiscent of the funny 60s satire Batman with Adam West.

Cera doesn’t exactly give a strong performance here and it’s possible that audiences are getting tired of his limited repertoire. He doesn’t have much chemistry with Winstead, who plays Ramona. Another big flaw with the film is that Ramona is such a bland character. She is so detached that we never get to know her. And neither does Scott, so it’s hard to understand why all these people are fighting over her. You may find yourself wondering why Scott doesn’t just stick with the loyal, affectionate Knives.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn’t a terrible film but it never finds its comedy center. Turning the movie into a giant video game was a daring move by director Wright but it overreaches in trying to mock a genre which is self satirizing.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" opens August 13, 2010 and is rated PG13. Comic Book. Directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall, Bryan Lee O'Malley. Starring Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera.

Aug
16
2010
Rob Young

Robert is obsessed with movies. He has a background in advertising and a long history of freelance writing but there's nothing he loves to write about more than movies. Let him dissect a film and he's a happy man. His favorite movie stars of all time are the Marx Brothers. He hates Cheech and Chong.

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