Gamertell Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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Scott Pilgrim poster

Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Price: ~$10.00 (depending on the theater)
Release Date: August 13, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.
Pros: Fun video game references, cool fight scenes
Cons: Awkward pacing of the plot, video game style feels forced
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb sideways, 84/100, B, * * *

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, with the film getting its title from the second book. The story revolves around 22-year-old Scott (Michael Cera), a Toronto resident and slacker extraordinaire. Scott spends his days playing bass with his band Sex Bomb-Omb and dating a 17-year old high schooler named “Knives” Chau (Ellen Long), which isn’t even really dating since they barely started to hold hands.

One night Scott dreams of a purple-haired girl rollerblading, and to his shock, he discovers that she’s real. The girl of his dreams –literally– is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a sullen American who came to the Great White North to leave her muddled past behind. Ramona agrees to start dating Scott, but there’s a huge catch — he must defeat all seven of her evil exes. These include a “hotheaded” skateboarder-turned-actor (Chris Evans) and a “super” bassist from Scott’s ex-girlfriend’s band (Brandon Routh).

The film is directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame, so it’s not surprising that its style is as quirky as his zombie romantic comedy. Fact balloons pop up next to each character when he or she is introduced, and doorbell sounds are augmented with the phrase “DING DONG!” streaming behind a character’s head; flashback stories are told in comic book form.

The actors in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are overall good, some more than others. Cera has the “awkward geek who still somehow gets cute girls” role perfected, but Winstead’s Ramona is bland. Long is adorable as the impressionable Knives, though she’s annoying during the second half of the film. Finally, Kieran Culkin is hilarious, stealing many scenes as Scott’s gay, financially responsible roommate Wallace.

At first, the film seems like a romantic comedy with some video game references. The truth is that it’s a live action video game. It’s really the only way to make sense of it. The first half hour is your standard rom-com fare — just like Shaun of the Dead! But when the scrawny Scott suddenly shows supercharged martial arts and swords skills, reality dives off the cliff. It’s not even a superhero movie in which there’s some sort of explanation for his powers. No, only in a video game can normal people have awesome fighting skills, and exes explode in a shower of coins when defeated.

The problem is that while this technique feels more natural in a comic book scenario, it feels forced and gimmicky in a live-action film. It reminds me of the DOOM movie, where near the end the camera turns into first-person perspective and well, looks like DOOM the game. It was supposed to be an homage, but to many people, it was silly. Still, the video-game style fights are fun to watch. For example, the first fight was with an Indian guy, so the battle has Bollywood-style background music, with the ex trying to Yoga Flame Scott.

It’s always challenging to condense material from a book series into a two-hour film. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World suffers from that in terms of pacing. You’re practically 40 minutes into the the movie when he encounters the first ex. Suddenly the pacing gets rushed, as Scott seems to meet one ex after the other every five minutes or so. It’s noticeable that the writers crammed events that occurred across multiple graphic novels into the span of about an hour. At one point, even Scott asks for the exes to give him a breather.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is clearly catering to a particular demographic. Twenty- and thirty-something gamers will surely laugh and smile at the video game references, but some may also shake their heads at how cheesy and forced they feel. Its awkward pacing may also throw off some viewers. Overall, it’s an exhilarating ride.

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