There are some movies you simply have to take on their own terms or not at all. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is one of these movies. Arguably the most hotly anticipated fanboy movie this summer, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” like this spring’s “Kick-Ass,” sets out deliberately to take the now very commercial comic book adaptation genre, rip it open, and turn the whole thing inside out.
Nowhere near as subversive or as violent as “Kick-Ass,” Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels is actually sort of sweet in a totally slacker sort of way. Michael Cera, who’s been getting a ton of work lately, plays the title character, an early twenties-something bass player in a local band who crashes with his gay friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin). Wallace’s sexual orientation only rates a mention because Scott sleeps in the same bed, although we’re told nothing’s going on. Scott is dating a seventeen year old high school student, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Nothing really seems to be going on there, either. All the two seem to do is hang out and go to arcades and music stores. In short, although Scott is nominally an adult, he’s living more or less like a homeless teenager.
Scott falls for the colorful (and she does change her hair color every week and a half) Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party and eventually manages to get her to go out with him. Ramona has a League of Evil Exes, and by dating Ramona, Scott has assured himself of a series of assassination attempts.
Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead Photo: courtesy Universal Pictures 2010
One, you simply have to take this for what it is or leave it alone. The travails of adolescence and young adulthood are translated into a comic book epic. Of course her evil exes, going back to seventh grade, are going to try to kill Scott. And of course they tend have superpowers. No explanation is ever offered for this, or how Scott, who doesn’t have the determination to get a job at a fast food restaurant, has the martial arts expertise to take these bozos on in epic brawls that aspire to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Matrix.”
I say aspire, by the way. Whether or not this movie actually qualifies as an action film is a matter of opinion, but personally I’m not sure director Edgar Wright is even trying to do that. The whole thing is so stylized that the point seems to be that isn’t realistic. Wright’s self-consciously edgy approach does not exist in a vacuum. Superimposing titles of comic book mayhem sounds goes back to the “Biff! Bam! Oof!” gags of the sixties “Batman” TV show. Wright takes it even further, adding graphics to note when Scott finally gets why Ramona always says “exes” instead of “ex-boyfriends,” and when he needs to pee. The Wachowskis broke new ground with slow motion, and even freezing action, in “The Matrix,” at times simulating comic book splash panels. Ang Lee used various types of split screens and inserts to simulate comic book panels in “The Hulk,” although Wright’s use of the technique is more effective here.
The thing is, when you read a comic book you decide how long you look at a given panel, and in fact what order you look at them in, and not a director. A movie watched in a theater always unfolds to someone else’s timetable, although home video permits endless rewinds and freeze-frames. And although certainly trying to simulate a comic book or graphic novel on screen, Wright is just as influenced by video games here, from the redone Universal Pictures leader at the beginning of the movie, to the how-is-he-going-get-of-this-one climactic jam.
Cast of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” Photo: Courtesy Universal Pictures (c) 2010
Cera is perfectly cast in the antihero slacker title role. Cera’s career has been building up steam ever since “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” although he’s been working for a decade. He has the sense not to apologize for his character, or to try to make him better than he is. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has likewise been around for awhile, most recently in “Live Free or Die Hard,” although she’s also notched credits for “Grindhouse,” “Bobby,” “Sky High” and “The Ring 2.” She stands to be the breakout star in this one.
Anna Kendrick, an Academy Award nominee for “Up in the Air” and veteran of all the “Twilight” movies plays Scott’s sister and actually appears at times to be a member of the real world. Few people in this movie can say that. Jason Schwartzman and superhero veterans Chris Evans (“The Fantastic Four,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”)and Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) are among the evil exes, and they seem to be having a marvelous time. The cast members playing Scott’s band are credited with their own numbers.
Whether or not this actually succeeds in redefining the comic book genre is debatable. But “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a departure from anything else out there right now, and the fanboys aren’t going to miss it regardless.