Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Leave it to British funnyman behind the camera Edgar Wright to close out the summer with a comic book adaptation that exceeds all levels of awesome with imagination, balls-out action, screamingly funny humor and a love story that is so simple it actually will surprise many with how much depth it has. The biggest question I left asking (besides how the Hell has this film NOT clicked with moviegoers) is, “How the Hell is his ‘Ant-Man’ film for Marvel gonna top this?”
From the killer-good 8-bit Universal logo that starts out the film, you know you’re in for a wildly offbeat adventure as 22-year old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, in his best big-screen role yet) awakes from his year-long romantic drought with not just a 17-year old Chinese girl (Knives Chau, played by Ellen Wong in a bright and brave breakout performance brimming with romantic obsession), but also finds himself star-struck by Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Eventually he dumps Knives for Ramona, but like every other woman, Ramona brings a lot of baggage with her. Just be glad if your woman doesn’t have seven evil ex-boyfriends gunning for you when you least expect it.
On the surface, I get why this film isn’t connecting. It revels in all-aspects of young nerd culture- video games, comic books, alterna-rock and romantic interests that change as often as hair styles (as is the case with Ramona’s in the film)- which is a turn-off for the older viewer. And the script by Wright and Michael Bacall is full of sly verbal wit, which for younger audiences more in-tuned with the likes of “Grown Ups” and “The Other Guys” doesn’t work unless it’s dressed up with zombies (as it was in Wright’s classic “Shaun of the Dead”) or dressing down action cliches (see Wright’s “Hot Fuzz”). You know what? Let the film fall flat with the masses. I’d rather be part of the passionate cult of Pilgrim than live with the warmed-over leftovers that make up most big-studio comedies.
Now for another question- how do I boil this film, brimming with visual and verbal surprises, great characters (played by a greater cast), and palpable energy, into a cogent review that will get people to watch? I mean, how do I appreciate a musical palette that includes stings from video games and great songs by Beck and others that are like the greatest “kid of the ’80s” soundtrack ever compiled? How do I wax poetic about the visual richness and imagination of cinematographer Bill Pope’s dynamic canvas, which moves into video game and anime aesthetics as seemlessly as it does grounded character work?
And how do I give sufficient praise to this cast? Yes, Cera is the clear star of the film (and it’s the best he’s been since his “Arrested Development” days), but Wright has a loaded cast around him. Whether you’re talking about the scene-stealing Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace or Anna Kendrick (all tough love and tougher verbal insult as Scott’s younger sister, who pointedly calls him “little brother”) or Winstead as the passive, pained, but nonetheless warm and winning Ramona, or whether you’re talking about the exes themselves, which function as individual characters as much as they do video game combatants. I mean, you’ve got the new Captain America (Chris Evans), the most-recent Superman (Brandon Routh), and Max Flscher (Jason Schwartzman) doing battle with George Michael Bluth? What can be nerdier?
Not much. And there’s a level of nerdvana that this film achieves that will put a smile on even the most stone-faced viewer, and warm the heart of even the most beaten-down hopeless romantic. Who knew Wright had such greatness in him? Well, audiences would if they went off the beaten path more often. But that’s a topic for another time.