Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'
Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'


The very first frame announces the intent of the movie: the Universal Studios logo, in pixellated form, with cheesy synth music playing the theme. We’re in an 8-bit world, and director and co-scripter Edgar Wright is at the controls.

A dazzling plunge into an unending deluge of visual and cinematic tricks proceeds forthwith. Yet they’re not really “tricks” in the sense of a magician’s sleight-of-hand; they’re a means of expressing the alternating currents of bliss, confusion, fear, hope, lust, and love (maybe? possibly?)  that surge through the mind and body of anyone taking the delicate first steps in a relationship.

The movie creates an undercarriage of trust because it’s willing to expose the wounded vulnerability of its lead characters. Currently “between jobs,” Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) sees a beautiful girl roller-skating through his dreams, and then sees her in real life. When he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party, it’s horrible and awkward and blessedly brief. But there’s something about her that obsesses him. Is it her looks, the way she dresses, her multi-colored, constantly changing hair? Whatever.

He schemes up a way to see her again, and is promptly attacked by an angry ex-boyfriend. Scott learns that if he and Ramona are to continue dating, he must defeat her “seven angry exes” in duels to the death. Of course, since we’re in a video game, all the “exes” have different super-powered fighting abilities. Fortunately, so does Scott.

And Scott thought his life was complicated before he met Ramona. He lives (and sleeps in the same bed) with his gay friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin), plays (poorly) in a band with the talented Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and dour drummer Kim (Alison Pil), not to mention hanger-on Young Neil (Johnny Simmons).

Scott is dating 17-year-old high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and theirs is a puppy dog love. Scott wanted something simple after getting his heart broken by Envy Adams (Brie Larson), a fellow musician who signed a record deal, made it big, and dumped him for an old friend. Neither Wallace nor Scott’s sister Stacy (Anna Kendrick) nor foul-mouthed former friend Julie (Aubrey Plaza) approve of Scott’s relationship with Knives, but it’s something to do for a while.

Until Ramona shows up on the scene in snowy Toronto, a recent arrival from New York City, trying in vain to leave her past behind. Just in time to support Scott as his group competes in a battle of the bands, and his evil ex shows up to play a concert.

What’s more difficult to convey than the plot is the way that Edgar Wright has adapted the six-book graphic novel series into a cohesive, blindingly original picture that feels as though it only belongs on the big screen. Despite the numerous call-backs to characters, incidents, and even individual panels and pages in Bryan O’Malley’s original work, it’s not a strict translation.

Instead, it feels like Wright has melted the graphic novels onto the celluloid.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a headtrip, yet it’s also sweet and yearning. Mary Elizabeth Winstead manifests cool, relaxed comfort, and is a real revelation as Ramona. She’s aching inside, but she keeps moving forward, despite all the trouble it brings. As for Michael Cera, he’s never been an actor for whom I’ve felt a particular affinity. Rather than annoy or bore, he comes across as a young man who hasn’t quite got it all figured out. All the performances, right down to bit parts and the extras, are pitch-perfect, another credit to Mr. Wright.

All of the eye candy — including numerous bizarre, bravura brawls that defy space, time, and logic while mesmerizing the senses — plays out on a comic stage that produces an avalanche of laughter.

Simply terrific.