Thursday, August 12, 2010
Review: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is like the entirety of American youth culture crammed into a single package: It's about love, alienation, video games, comic books, chord-grinding indie/punk rock, texting, dead-end jobs and evil ex-boyfriends.
Mostly, video games and ex-boyfriends.
Michael Cera, Generation Y's poster boy of angst-y charm, plays Scott Pilgrim, an itinerant bass player with a Toronto band called Sex Bob-omb.
Say it out loud and fast and the band's name, if not exactly making sense, at least becomes a cool, quirky statement. You could say the same about the movie.
Scott's mission: He must defeat the seven ex-boyfriends of Ramona Flowers, his new-new girlfriend. (As opposed to his old-new girlfriend, Knives Chau. In other words, she's his ex, but doesn't know it yet.)
Each of the battles is played out as an arcade-style brawl of superpowers, with the scrawny Scott able to leap and punch like the avatars of the video games he plays. Why he's suddenly able to summon these abilities for the fights with Ramona's exes, but is an everyday schmo otherwise, is a subject never broached.
Other people can also perform amazing feats when called upon, which makes a little more sense, in the sense that it doesn't. As near as I can figure, it's like everybody in the movie's universe can hit a button on their personal game controller and transform into a super-hero, while never leaving their alter-ego behind.
Other people in this world -- which is populated entirely by those under age 30 -- accept these battles as a matter of course and settle in to spectate, even though they tend to interrupt the concerts and dance clubs they were attending.
I enjoyed myself watching "Scott Pilgrim," at times immensely so. But I wonder if anyone who's not intimately tapped into its peculiar vibe, built largely around the Mario Bros. oeuvre, is going to embrace (or even understand) the film.
(For example, if right now you're thinking Mario Bros. refers to a pizza chain run by siblings, then this movie is not for you.)
Cera has become the unlikeliest movie star -- a movie star being different from a film actor in that while an actor plays many different roles, a star always plays himself. In Cera's case, he's a mumbling, self-doubting drink of water who finds his resolve when the girl of his dreams appears.
His pursuit of Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who favorably recalls a young Winona Ryder) is fumbling and pathetic, but inexplicably successful. Soon he and the pink-haired (for now) Ramona are an item, which is destined to put a damper on the bubbly mood of Knives (Ellen Wong).
The story -- the screenplay is by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright, who also directed, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley -- is framed around the ex-boyfriend fights. Each one has its own loopy rules and energy, and pop-up messages appear just like in a video game to let us know when people have gained new abilities or earned an extra life (never hurts to have one of those).
The boyfriends tend to be played by recognizable actors like Chris Evans and Brandon Routh (both of whom also moonlight in other movies as super-heroes -- Captain America and Superman, respectively).
There's no real danger to the action, of course -- if you die in an arcade game, you can always drop in another quarter to continue. (I say "quarter" figuratively, since it's been awhile ... what do those things cost now, like a buck-fifty?)
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" doesn't really add up to much more than high score on a screen. But it achieves it with a fresh, brash style that demands, "Are you really cool enough to like this movie?"
3 stars out of four