Scott Pilgrim is the Bomb-omb
Remember those relationships you had that didn’t exactly end as mutually as you’d have liked? You may have ditched him or her for someone else, ceased calling and answering the door, broken up via answering service, or decided to behave like a total asshole just so you didn’t have to face their tears during an honest break-up. Since then whenever you run into that person at the store, concert, or local fair things get terribly awkward – you might even duck behind a display of oranges or a carnival barker just to avoid contact with that person.
The only thing worse is when confronted with your girlfriend’s ex, who was dumped under circumstances similar to those above – especially if that ex has yet to move on. The tension in the air is fatal.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World speaks to these situations with a balance of indie comic introspection and 16-bit thrills. It’s a mash-up of twenty-something romances, video games, comic book visuals, and indie rock; a sort of Nick & Norah meets Annie Hall meets Street Fighter. Scott Pilgrim is based on a six-book comic series about a young man (played magnificently by Michael Cera) in an unsuccessful indie band called Sex Bomb-omb, who discovers that in order to continue a relationship with his ultra-cool hipster girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elisabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil exes. We’re not talking about a figurative defeat or “best out of three” Pong matches; punches are thrown, screens are dramatically split, and people burst into coins.
Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) created a film with the sugar-rush energy of a 21 year-old playing video games and reading comics all day then going to rock concerts at night – but managed to make room for some greatly relatable lessons about owning up to the harm we’ve caused others and maturing into adulthood. Wright has established a history of taking an ostensibly fun concept (zombies, buddy-cop action) and laying it on top of something thematically interesting or character-driven. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is no exception. The evil exes represent the innocents we hurt when we’re young and stupid. The film captures well the aversion to conflict we have when we’re young and immature. Scott Pilgrim always wants to play the role of the good guy in his own game of life and anything that suggests he isn’t is met with denial or justification. He is young and selfish, but who hasn’t been there? Even Ramona Flowers, as she’s recounting to Scott her history with each evil ex, is copping to having been there herself. We gradually realize with Scott that if we’re not careful, we too could become someone’s evil ex.
But when one compares the romance between Scott and Ramona to that of Shaun and Liz of Shaun of the Dead it becomes apparent there’s something missing in the former. Ramona Flowers is the cool girl every geek wishes he was hip enough to score; Mary Elisabeth Winstead exudes that. Pilgrim is introspective and appealingly awkward, but made imperfect by his wariness to maturity; Michael Cera transcends his persona and sells this slacker hero. But a movie that is full of impersonal gaming graphics and round-house kicks with subjects as personal as they are at its core needs more intimacy to balance it out. As entertaining and wonderful as Scott Pilgrim is to witness, the romance could’ve used a few more intimate moments to help us care more. That’s not to say the romance is inexplicable and a complete failure; we get why Scott and Ramona are interested in each other. It’s just that, while it’s hard to cry “GAME OVER!” to a movie this special already crammed with all its metaphors, supporting characters, references, and jokes – and avoids trying to shoehorn more in – the characters need a bit more to chew on during their video game action.
Speaking of characters, Scott certainly is surrounded by a dream cast of supporting characters: Envy Adams (Brie Larson), Knives Chow (Ellen Wong), Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), Kim Pine (Allison Pill), Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza), Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), and Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). Best among them are Evans and Routh as two of the evil exes and Culkin, all grown up, as Scott’s platonically gay roommate. Evans and Routh have both dabbled in superhero films (Evans as Human Torch, Routh as Superman) and they both seem to lampoon those icons here. Evans plays a hot-headed, egotistical action star while Routh hovers in the air, claiming to be holier than thou because he’s vegan. Theirs are a couple of the best scenes in the movie. Also, Culkin’s Wallace successfully brings Scott Pilgrim back to reality with a gentle yet undercutting wryness.
Scott Pilgrim is a welcome push on the refresh button to a summer as stale as a gaming console’s final release schedule. It is a mash-up spectacle, but full of metaphors and emotional substance. It speaks perfectly to those of the 8-bit ‘80s adolescence now matured and hitting their thirties and those of the text-gen that can’t articulate their feelings beyond reductive mumblings and haven’t matured beyond creating their own League of Evil Exes. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may not measure up to Edgar Wright’s other vid-iot, Shaun of the Dead, but it’ll make your inner geek sing.
Should you see it? Buy tickets
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is in theaters now.