Movies that adapt video games and comic books for mainstream audiences usually attempt to make the plot more accessible to the average viewer. In grounding the experience so that people can relate to it, often these works abandon the light-hearted and fantastic aspects that appeal to their followers.
What’s so absolutely wonderful about “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” though is that it does not attempt to dumb itself down. The director Edgar Wright, of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” fame, has created a film with uncompromising vision directed towards a very distinct target niche: gamers and comic book fans. This film is fully loaded with enough video game references, epic fight scenes, and rockin’ tunes to keep any geek happy.
Wright adapts a set of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley featuring the character Scott Pilgrim, a nerdy slacker from Toronto, Canada in his early 20s. Right away Scott (Michael Cera) is painted as a rather pathetic character that we should pity. Scott shares a studio apartment with a promiscuous roommate (Kieran Culkin), he dates a high school girl, and he plays in a band that can’t land any gigs.
In his daily travels Scott encounters the fuchsia haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the new girl in town with a mysterious past. He falls for her relatively quickly, trying everything in his power to woo her. Scott is able to score a date with Ramona, but he is blissfully unaware of her very dangerous emotional baggage. Her exes have formed a coalition to ward off any future suitors, and Scott is the first target of their wrath.
Scott learns that he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat in order to win her heart. He encounters his share of trials and tribulations along the way, which lead him to question his own motives and affection for Ramona. Scott’s most powerful discovery though is he can use his video game fighting skills, his musical talents, and powers of deduction to help him outwit the various bosses in his path. His quest is beneficial to him as a character because it empowers him with more self-confidence and helps him earn skill points.
From a special effects standpoint, the fight scenes in “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” are masterfully edited and the computer generated animation is seamless when featured in the film. These sequences carry a certain comic book style paneling and video game like frenzy that’s undeniably exciting.
What’s equally as impressive and well-balanced as the lavish effects, is the use of real life aspects presented in the film. Edgar Wright worked specifically with Brian Lee O’Malley to scout the actual locations on Toronto that the artist drew for his comics, so that they could shoot in the same locations. Wright also asked Canadian musicians Beck and Broken Social Scene to create songs for Scott’s band Sex Bob-Omb and for the film’s soundtrack.
Michael Cera is perfectly cast as the awkward and often clueless Scott Pilgrim, effortlessly pinning down this aspect of the role, while surprisingly handling the demanding physical aspects of the part with great skill. Jason Schwartzman also astonishes with his sword fighting and hand to hand combat as the dastardly leader of the evil exes Gideon Graves.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is an incredibly enjoyable film that effectively combines the worlds of comics, video games, and music in a way that does not feel dulled down. As a life-long video game fan I laughed at its video game humor, I ogled its special effects, and I delighted in its ridiculous characters. Even though I never read the graphic novels, its plot and its jokes were still easily engaging.
If there is any shortcoming that I can pick out about the film, it is that it appeals to such a narrow scope of people. I can’t really fault it too much for that however since it is so unwavering in the commitment to its target audience of gamers and comic book fans delivering a knock out punch.
My Grade: A-