Every generation seems to try and define universal truths on their own terms. It is no wonder then that members of Generations X and Y who spent their formative years absorbing video games and comic books would conjure a compelling study of romance and maturity in the form of the free-form, high-energy and wildly entertaining movie “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
Flashing with the sensory-assaulting glitz of an arcade circa 1992, this film, based on a comic book series, is at its heart a simple boy-meets-girl story.
Scott Pilgrim is an unassuming, 20-something Canadian played by Michael Cera who has decided to fully embrace his typecasting as a wimpy, lovesick hipster.
Scott falls head over heels for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winestead), a bewitching, rainbow-haired delivery girl with a heavy load of personal baggage.
As Ramona seems to be dragging her heels in regards to starting a new relationship, it becomes immediately clear that if Scott wants to get the girl, he’s going to have to fight for her – literally.
In order to claim the title of Ramona’s boyfriend, Scott must fight the League of Evil Exes, a group made up (primarily) of Ramona’s former boyfriends who crop up at inopportune times to battle with Scott “Super-Mario”-style.
While references to video games, comic books and anime are sprinkled throughout the movie it is during these epic fight scenes, where the laws of physics are defied and the vanquished turn into a pile of coins, that the movie’s influences become readily apparent.
While this cute concept for a film is brilliantly executed and the movie itself is packed hilarious dialogue and enough references to repeatedly thrill dorks like myself who misspent a youth locked away with our Nintendos constantly trying to “level up,” there is actually a lot more going on in this movie than its glossy exterior would have you believe.
This is not at all surprising because “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was directed by Edgar Wright. In his two previous features, Wright established himself as a gifted comedic mimic whose movies appeared to be nothing but silly homages on the surface but held some surprisingly profound themes for those willing to dig a little deeper.
“Shaun of the Dead” was about zombies, but it was also about the difficulty in prioritizing the relationships in your life. “Hot Fuzz” was a high-octane action spoof, but it was also about building friendship and overcoming ego.
In Scott Pilgrim we have a flawed hero. He plays bass in a struggling band, but lacks any ambition or direction. Still licking the wounds from his own messy break-up, Scott initially begins dating a mousy high-school student named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) much to the dismay of his sister (Anna Kendrick) and his cynical, financially supportive roommate (Kieran Culkin).
Even after falling for Ramona, Scott continues to string Knives along all the while battling his own insecurities and low self-esteem. It becomes apparent as the movie progresses that Scott is not only fighting for love but fighting for scraps of self-respect as well.
There is a heart to this movie behind its 16-bit façade and a lot of that credit goes to the outstanding, young ensemble of actors. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned there are some great turns by Chris Evans (soon-to-be Captain America), Brandon Routh (a former Superman) and Jason Schwartzman (an indie-film superhero in his own right) as assorted evil exes.
I am hesitant to recommend this movie to anyone over the age of 40 as once you get beyond the classically romantic core of the film, the referential video-game framework this movie operates in is likely to make about as much sense as a Swahili-speaking llama explaining the String Theory of particle physics.
As for everyone else, I can only put my feelings in simple fanboy terms. I heart “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.