Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
It's too bad that people aren't coming out in droves for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because underneath its video-game inspired aesthetic, hyper-edited pace, hip soundtrack, and deadpan humor is not only the best comedy, action, and (straight-up) film of the summer, but the most honest warts-and-all film about falling in love since 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And, so far, the best film of the year.
Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, a Toronto Canada native who spends his unemployed days as an irresponsible 22 year old, jamming with his band Sex Bob-omb, sharing an apartment with his best gay friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin), pining for his ex girlfriend Natalie (Brie Larson), and bugging his friends by obsessing over his new girlfriend - the still-in-high-school Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). His simple life is haymakered after he runs into the girl of his dreams - literally - Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party. Rocked with the urge to pursue Ramona at all costs, and in denial about the need to let Knives go before anything happens with his dream-girl, Scott finds his life complicated even more by the sudden introduction of Ramona's seven evil exes - a league of former Ramona lovers led by the manipulative Gideon (Jason Schwartzman) determined to destroy Scott by any means necessary.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film over-flowing with obscure and geeky video game and pop-culture references, but it's also bursting with an insane amount of fun as well. Director Edgar Wright proves again that he is without a doubt the best director working in the comedy genre today. His sense of comedic timing has never been better than in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and it's literally impossible to catch every joke on one viewing. His screenplays are specifically designed to keep the viewer laughing at something new on each and every look at the movie. Whether it's an obvious but funny joke, a deadpan line-delivery, a split-screen revealing something that turns a scene on its head, or the greatest vegan jokes you'll ever see on the big screen, Wright's all-or-nothing comedy approach is wildly successful. I can't think of one joke that doesn't stick its landing and I'm sure, if there are any, they'll hit on a future viewing. And not only is the screenplay wildly hilarious, but it's also perfectly paced, with a consistent tone throughout. While Wright's last two films (the modern classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) stumble a bit with tonal changes in their third acts, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is literally perfect in that aspect. You will not see a better paced film this year, that I guarantee.
Scott Pilgrim would be a great movie if it were just a comedy, but thankfully it gets even better when it becomes an action film. It's ironic that the best action film of the year doesn't come from the director of The Dark Knight or star Sylvester Stallone and 5 other ass-kickers, but from a director mostly known for British style comedies and featuring a guy whose nerdy and stringy body helped propel him to stardom. As mentioned, Ramona has seven evil exes. At about 120 minutes, that's one evil ex battle approximately every 17 minutes. One of the achievements of Wright's action direction is his success in making every action scene distinct and fun. Each evil ex has a different ability, so Scott must adapt his fight technique to fit the ex he's battling at the time. Wright wisely stays away from the shaky-cam technique that permeates the action genre in modern cinema, and instead employs a mixture of fantastic editing, on-screen text (Adam West era Batman style), and impressive fight choreography. The battles are fluid, fun, and a joy to behold. There's more than one film this summer in which you'll see things you've never seen before.
"Well you've mentioned the comedy and action, Mark", you're thinking, "but what about Michael Cera? He plays the same character over and over, and he's annoying!" Yes, I know, Michael Cera backlash permeates every corner of the Internet and is seeping into the mainstream as I write this review. Personally I don't understand it; while Cera has a very particular persona he's been working with for the past…however long it's been since Arrested Development went off the air, he's another master of comedic timing. His choice in playing characters that are "the same" is offset by his disarmingly natural ability to turn awkward into an art form. Scott Pilgrim is essentially the role Cera was born to play: an aimless, selfish, childish, but ultimately good person who's not afraid to fight for what he wants and listen to his friends when they tell him he's acting like a douchebag.
While Cera may be perfect for Scott Pilgrim, every other role is perfectly filled as well. Mary Elizabeth Winstead keeps Ramona at a respectable distance until the end of the film (which may be a problem for some people - we at first don't see why Scott would have any interest in her other than she's his literal dream girl. My response to that is: young love is impulsive, irrational, and understandable only to the person in it), and while Ramona could have ended up being being an overly-stoic wet-blanket, Winstead makes her mysteriousness endearing and intriguing. Ellen Wong's wronged Knives Chau is cuter than two puppies wrestling on a cloud of marshmallow, and perhaps a bit too obsessed with Pilgrim for her own good, but Wong makes her sympathetic. Our hero broke her heart into a million pieces, why shouldn't she be? The rest of the cast brings their A-game as well - especially a few of the evil ex's. Chris Evans (a very funny, very talented actor) has never been funnier as Evil Ex #2 - the narcissistic and clueless actor Lucas Lee, and Brandon Routh (our most recent Superman) gets the best evil ex battle as a hilarious vegan caricature in Evil Ex #2. Beauty Brie Larson sexes the screen up as Scott's ex and successful lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead (whose music in the film is performed by the band Metric). The actor who steals every scene he's in, though, is Kieran Culkin, who plays Wallace Wells, Scott's aforementioned gay roommate. Wallace is the best friend every guy wants - funny and loyal, but not afraid to smack you in the back of the head when you do something stupid. Culkin has an affable personality, and while he steals his scenes he's never overbearing.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the review, many people will stay away from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based solely on its aesthetic and, to be honest, it is without a doubt aimed at a very specific audience. The people who will get the most enjoyment out of the film are those individuals who grew up blowing into the cartridges of Nintendo games just to play another level of Bad Dudes. While on the surface Scott Pilgrim vs. the World aims for the kid in us it does, underneath, have a seriously adult theme running throughout (which literally becomes objective at the end of the film). Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about becoming a man and gaining respect for yourself before blindly committing fully to something you're not quite sure you want to get into. Love only works when you understand yourself before getting involved with someone you literally don't understand at first. There's a reason the film ends with a "Continue" countdown. Everyone has baggage. We all have "evil" exes (honestly: how many times have you fallen in love with the greatest person in the world only to refer to them as evil after you break up).
If I seem to be kind of in love with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it's only because I am. I've seen the film three times - twice during San Diego Comic Con, where it was shown to its intended audience and once as a paying customer, with a theater 1/10th full of people who didn't get it at first and then got around to being totally with it before the end. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is cinema in its purest form. Engaging, new, entertaining, fun, bursting with joy, and with lessons that we may have learned before but we might need to learn again.