WFTB Score: 13/20
The plot: Jobless Canadian Scott Pilgrim discovers that dating can be a challenge when he embarks on a relationship with the striking Ramona Flowers. Like most people, Ramona has a few issues with her exes, most notably her last love Gideon; unlike most people, Scott – saddled with ex-factors of his own – has to defeat Ramona’s former partners in videogame-style combat to win her love.
It might be harsh to call 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) a slacker, but the description is fair: between jobs, he lives off the goodwill of his gay housemate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and passes his time in Toronto playing bass in unpolished garage band Sex Bob-omb whilst chastely dating high-schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Scott’s life becomes, to put it mildly, complicated when he sets eyes on colourful American courier Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), literally the girl of his dreams. Though Scott’s Pac-Man-based chat-up falls on deaf ears, he persists and Ramona reluctantly starts dating him, the reason for her reluctance manifesting itself in Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), the first of her seven ex-boyfriends (or, as Ramona is keen to stress, exes) whom Scott has to defeat. As Sex Bob-omb progress through a Battle of the Bands competition and Knives fails to disappear from the scene, Scott encounters his nemeses and even fights his feelings for an ex of his own, successful singer Natalie/Envy (Brie Larson). However, he may not have the necessary skills to defeat the big boss from Ramona’s past, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman), who coincidentally may also hold the key to Sex Bob-omb’s success.
One of the many several areas of human endeavour in which I’ve dabbled is the computer game, and although I’m no connoisseur of the beat-‘em-up – my journey starts with Way of the Exploding Fist, reaches a pinnacle with IK+ and more or less ends with the first Tekken – I’m aware of the fun to be had from such titles as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. In theory, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book graphic novel, holds no fears; and though I’ve not read the original work nor played most of the computer games that provide much of the visual inspiration for Scott Pilgrim, I do know enough about Life Bars, RPG stats and 1UP icons to know that Edgar Wright has nailed the look of the film completely, especially with the anime style of the hyper-stylised fights which see Pilgrim and his foes breaking through walls and flying into castles, but returning without a scratch. There are tons of little videogame jokes and asides to keep the viewer interested between fights, though the characters themselves play relatively few games; it’s funny in other ways, too, providing an entertaining mixture of droll, dry sarcasm (mostly from Wallace and Anna Kendrick as Scott’s gossipy sister Stacey) and Spaced-like visual gags – there’s a smashing one featuring Scott’s hat.
Scott Pilgrim’s cause is helped immeasurably by some spot-on casting. Wong does both comedy and action well and Winstead, in real life a regular Hollywood starlet, is pitched beautifully as a slightly ragged, dare I say kooky creation with large, incredibly deep brown eyes and a (comparatively) deep voice. It can’t be quite right that the heroine’s voice is lower than the hero’s; I’ve never enjoyed Cera’s featherweight voice and it doesn’t get any better here. However, his comic timing is good and as Scott he’s essentially sweet, which helps you to root for Scott even though he can be a slovenly, inactive dangler. The film’s real revelation, though, is Kieran Culkin, who is brilliantly waspish as Wallace. Some of the exes provide super cameos too, not least Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh as a vegan-powered muscleman and (to a lesser extent) Fantastic Four’s Chris Evans as a narcissistic, skateboarding actor.
So, the film is visually confident, well cast and regularly amusing, but it’s not all good news; Scott Pilgrim is one-note in its approach and you eventually feel the nearly two-hour running time. Crucially, because it lacks the interaction that real computer games offer, whilst Wright does his best to shake things up, you sometimes get the sense of repetitiveness that you experience watching someone else play a computer game. For me, seven exes was plenty, and the fact that two of Ramona’s former beaus are dealt with briefly, simultaneously, via Battle of the Bands suggests to me that the filmmakers wanted to rattle through them too. Scott’s agonies over his love life can drag on and the structure of the story is not particularly original (Boy wins girl, boy loses girl, boy finds inner strength to get girl back). On this point, the film’s message about taking responsibility for your actions (Scott levels up with the Powers of Love and Self-Respect) is rather heavy-handed, even if a nice gag involving ‘Mega Scott’ makes up for it.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a refreshingly distinctive film for younger audiences, by which I mean that it’s not a film all about getting drunk and getting laid – while there is sex talk, it’s surprisingly well-handled and is particularly matter-of-fact about Wallace’s relationships (quite right too). The movie is almost guaranteed to split opinion, and even those who get exactly where it’s coming from would have to own up to its imperfections; but it’s funny, stylish, clever, and a more than welcome alternative to the increasingly degrading sleaze served up by the American Pie brigade and its imitators.