Watching an Edgar Wright movie is a bit of an experience in and of itself, and requires a certain amount of detachment from reality. In the vein of hyper-kinetic filmmakers like Guy Ritchie and Tom Tykwer, Wright’s movies tend to be fast-paced and filled with quirky, incredibly flawed but ultimately lovable characters who are just trying to do the right thing. His style is well-suited to a post-MTV generation weaned on ten-second YouTube clips and augmented-reality mobile applications that meld a virtual world with the real one. Pairing this type of director with source material steeped in videogame references and indie music seems like it would be a match made in heaven. And you know what? It pretty much is.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, like Avatar, isn’t so much a movie to watch as it is a film to experience. Michael Cera plays
Michael Cera Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old socially awkward slacker who plays bass in a band (flaunting 80’s geek-cred with their name Sex Bob-omb) and is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). His life is going nowhere, and his friends are more interested in working the local music scene than going to college or getting real jobs. With lives steeped in 8-bit video games and indie music, Scott and his friends are content to live their lives in Toronto, Canada, without too many worries outside of (what else?) winning the local Battle of the Bands competition and getting signed to a record label.
But since Scott Pilgrim is an Edgar Wright movie, even this bit of exposition near the beginning is far more interesting than it could be. The opening Universal Pictures logo is re-done with pixellated graphics and music that could have been ripped from an original Nintendo game. Visuals of Sex Bob-omb playing in their ramshackle apartment are augmented with anime-style lightning bolts and Batman-style words that pop out with each “one-two-three-four” screamed by drummer Kim Pine (Alison Pill). Video game sound effects and music from permeate the onscreen action, even if it’s just two people talking to each other. And yet the characters in the movie are entirely conscious of this hyper-realistic world around them, which invites the viewers to just sit back and enjoy the blissful escape from reality.
Scott soon meets up with aloof emo chick Ramona Flowers at a party and immediately falls in lust love with her. But in order to go out with her, he must defeat her seven evil exes. Yeah, defeat. As in, fight, even though Scott has no training in martial arts beyond a couple rounds of Street Fighter. And so when her first evil ex Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) shows up during the first round of the Battle of the Bands, he and Scott immediately jump into a bout that could give Neo and Agent Smith a run for their money. They fly through the air, landing punches with all the hyper-stylization of Japanese animation, and verbally spar with trite dialog to match. When Scott lands the finishing blow, Patel literally disintegrates into a pile of coins, just like in a video game.
After this initial fight, the movie pretty much falls into a pattern. Since Scott must defeat all seven of Ramona’s exes, the rest of the movie is somewhat of a foregone conclusion as we witness one round after the next, each one upping the ante in terms of outrageousness and nintendo-meets-anime-meets-live-action visual overload. It’s something to behold, really, especially the fight with ex number two Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) who meets his demise in a fiery explosion as he skateboards at near-supersonic speeds down an icy outdoor handrail. There’s also a nice joke at the expense of vegans when Scott fights Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh, continuing to rebuild his acting career after the disaster that was Superman Returns). All of it is darkly whimsical and not to be taken with one iota of sincerity, and even though the plot of the movie is about as deep as Wayne’s World or Ace Ventura, it nonetheless contains the same type similar type of disenchanted charm and warm appeal as well. There’s quite little in the way of actual plot, mind you, but like the Super Mario Bros. movie, the plot isn’t really the point. Unlike the Super Mario Bros. movie, though, one could probably make a convincing argument for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as the best video game movie of all time. (And the video game adaption of the movie looks to be pretty good too.)
Basically, if you like Michael Cera, or have ever played an original Nintendo, you will probably dig Scott Pilgrim. It’s a movie that proudly wears 80’s and 90’s counterculture cred on its well-torn sleeve, but infuses it with a playful energy that feels altogether fresh and new.