Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Brandon Routh
Time Out rating:
Scott Pilgrim vs the World might be a US studio movie and have cost more than three times the combined budgets of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, but for British director Edgar Wright it’s no huge leap from Spaced, the ’90s TV series which made his name, to this. Like Spaced, Scott Pilgrim trades in the messy lives of twentysomething slackers and springs from the world of the comic book. The characters in Spaced often felt like they tripped off the pages of a graphic novel (and Simon Pegg’s Tim was a fledgling comic artist), while the original Scott Pilgrim was the hero of a six-volume Canadian comic-book series published between 2004 and 2010.
Scott Pilgrim also has a similar relationship to realism and fantasy as Spaced: what we get are down-to-earth observations on everyday lives explained with wild flights of visual and narrative fancy, with plenty of nods to films and TV shows, loud music and daring edits.
Whether you like or just admire Scott Pilgrim will probably rest with how you feel about Scott, as played by Hollywood’s favourite nerd, Michael Cera. Scott is the 22-year-old jobless bass player in a garage band called Sex Bob-omb and is the kind of role that Cera regularly plays. But he’s also likeable, adorable at times, and free of the super-cool jive-talking that mars films like Juno. He’s self-centred and emotionally childish, but no more, we think, than most of us, and we enjoy the company of his friends, especially his vicious gay flatmate (Kieran Culkin). It means that when the frosty, unreachable Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) enters his life and he gives his try-hard younger girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) the brush-off, we’re running along with him.
Which is handy because most of the film invites us to take a trip in Scott’s head, a place heavily influenced by computer games. Ramona warns that he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes before they can get together – a classic gaming challenge – but the way the film flows between dream and reality, straight drama and crazy flourishes, makes it clear that it’s mostly happening in Scott’s mind.
And so the seven battles come one by one, complete with on-screen point scoring like an arcade game. Two fights stand out: Scott’s showdown with Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), a film star making a movie in Toronto, and his dispensal of a vegan rock star (Brandon Routh). The later battles are a bit less engaging, and it’s a relief when one of Scott’s adversaries turns out to be two: a pair of twins.
Scott Pilgrim feels like Ghost World in its honouring of young people with spikey, interesting personalities. There are hints of Woody Allen in its navel-gazing. And there’s a dash of The Matrix in its sneaky affection for pyrotechnics. It could have been a noisy, flashy mess, but luckily it’s got heart, which makes it feel fun and unique, and more like a lo-fi, endearing mess instead.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World opens at Shibuya's Cinema Rise on April 29