Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Written by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright (based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Brandon Routh, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza
I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World recently, and enjoyed what I thought I would enjoy about it, and was slightly less annoyed than I thought I would be annoyed by.
The setup (for those of you who didn’t watch a single film in theaters for the first half of 2010; the trailers were pretty ubiquitous) is that schluby Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, about which there shall be much more anon) splits time between sharing a tiny efficiency with his gay friend and playing bass with his band, Sex Bomb Omb, before he meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams, and has to fight her seven evil exes to win her affections. Actually, Pilgrim doesn’t seem quite as schluby as the trailer makes him out to be, because he previously dated a hot girl named Envy (Brie Larson) who’s now a pop superstar, and when the movie opens, he’s just started dating a 17-year old Chinese schoolgirl “with the uniform and everything” (Ellen Wong). I should point out that his schoolgirl girlfriend is cute as a button, and looks absolutely nothing like Korean model Hwang Mi Hee in the following picture:
Scott Pilgrim's 17-year old Chinese schoolgirl girlfriend looks absolutely nothing like this
Hmmmm….where was I? Oh yeah. She looks nothing like that. Anyway, Pilgrim soon throws her over for Ramona, whose evil exes come out of the woodwork to fight him in flat-out-impossible video game battles in real life. All of it is good, over-the-top fun. If you’ve ever watched a Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon and gone “Hey, wait a minute, there’s no way he could have survived that long a drop,” well then, this movie isn’t for you. I’ve never read the graphic novel it’s based on, but I’m guessing it’s very true to it.
All the evil ex fights are filled with amusing and completely insane action. The best is probably the fight with Envy’s bassist (Brandon Routh), which is not only high on the splat-fu, but also combines the absurdity of veganism giving you supernatural powers with the even more amusing absurdity of Vegan Police stripping away those same powers (“Chicken isn’t vegan?”).
The movie has a lot going for it. Edgar Wright is a hell of a director. Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest (and most underrated) movies of the last ten years, and he’s a master at keeping the action moving along at a steady clip. That aesthetic serves him well in a movie designed for Generation Twitch, in which almost every aspect of the characters “real” life has been speed up and Nintendofied. Also, although I didn’t grow up Nintendo, I’ve played enough video games that the antirealism of it (when Pilgrim dispatches an evil ex, coins rain to the floor; when he gets in a particularly good blow, a voice announces “Combo!”) was amusing rather than annoying. And the acting is almost uniformly excellent. Except…except…
Except for the Michael Cera Problem.
There are many actors in Hollywood with a broad range of characters. Michael Cera is not one of them. While he was fine in Superbad, he wasn’t any better than McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) or the fat kid (Jonah Hill), and while he was also fine in Juno, he was probably the weakest link in an otherwise exceptionally strong cast. After watching both, I got the distinct impression that Cera’s range extended from teenage awkwardness to awkward teenageness. “Do you…want an actor…who can…pause………awkwardly?” He does the awkward pause thing even more frequently than Topher Grace does his “slight pause before the…eyerolling delivery” thing, and it’s considerably more annoying. There’s no reason he should have become this generation’s Hollywood go-to guy for male teenager leads over the likes of, say, Zombieland‘s Jesse Eisenberg, who looks a little bit like him. (Then again, since The Social Network is a serious Oscar contender and Scott Pilgrim wasn’t quite the hit the studio was hoping for, we all know who got the better end of that decision…)
In Juno he had a supporting role, but here he’s the center of the film. Fortunately, the nature of the film tends to accentuate his strengths and (generally) mask his weaknesses. You don’t notice his flatness of range nearly as much when everything around him is exploding. But he’s still the weakest actor here, except…
Except that his love interest, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is if anything even flatter. Maybe this was a conscious decision on Edgar’s part, given the source material and the film’s overriding aesthetic. Maybe Ramona’s anime-hair colors are suppose to indicate that she’s every bit as useless and ornamental as the Princess in Donkey Kong. She’s a goal with a backstory, not a person.
So, can you enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World if the actors playing the two central characters aren’t that great? I did. Your mileage may vary.
If you can buy into the cartoonish nature of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, this is quite an enjoyable movie (though nowhere near as good as Hot Fuzz). If you’ve ever mastered the art of mashing six controller buttons at the same time to rip off an opponent’s head, this is the movie for you.