Directed by: Edgar Wright | 112 minutes | action, comedy, adventure, romance, fantasy | Actors: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Satya Bhabha, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Abigail Chu, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Johnny Simmons , Erik Knudsen, Nelson Franklin, Ingrid Haas, Kristina Pesic, Chantelle Chung, Ben Lewis, Jean Yoon, Emily Kassie
If you make your big-screen debut with “Shaun of the Dead” and follow it up with “Hot Fuzz”, the pressure is on for a third film. The former is an original and above all hilarious mix of horror and comedy, the latter excels by serving strong humor in the guise of an old-fashioned police mystery. With “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ‘Edgar Wright showcases his comedic talent in the fantasy genre. Because the Briton has to do without his regular partners Simon Pegg and Nick Frost this time, he does not seem to have taken any risks in terms of casting; the lead role of Scott Pilgrim is played by Michael Cera, who has also proven more than once to compete in the higher echelons of the comedy genre. Now that he is faced with the task of wearing a big budget spectacle in the title role for the first time, he is doing particularly well. The setting initially seems to be the reason why the naturally uncomfortable actor is perfectly in place – although the plot also requires the necessary courage and determination that we usually do not find in his characters.
That setting is a world in which comic books, video games, guitar music and the Cera, uncomfortably adolescent period of the early twenties come together to tell a story that cites more pop-cultural references than you might think possible, and contains more surreal scenes than there is fit a game cartridge. The playful set-up of the film is already betrayed before the opening, by the 8-bit design and ditto sound of the well-known Universal logo. This gives you the idea that you are dealing with an old Nintendo computer game rather than a fantasy movie. A feeling of staying with you for the entire run – this is not a standard comic strip adaptation, this is a universe created to be able to cast Brian Lee O’Malley’s drawn source material into appropriate moving images. Picture that, like slot machines in arcades, could come with messages about epilepsy, or with the warning to take a break every so often.
In that universe, Scott Pilgrim is the hero, as is the world’s most famous plumber in Super Mario World, and Dastan in The Prince of Persia. A world in which opponents can pop up anywhere to attack the lead, usually without immediate cause, and nobody is surprised for a second when sensational and physical laws defying battle scenes break out of nowhere. Again, the adventure is about saving a princess; Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is – literally – the girl of Scott’s dreams, and he’ll do anything to win her over. Even if that means he has to beat her seven evil and almost mythical exes. The fact that there are exes with supernatural powers at all is not perceived by anyone as unlikely, impossible, or at least a bit strange, let alone explained. After all, in video games, such things don’t need to be explained. In this film, refreshingly, neither. On the contrary, Scott knows how to present himself very naturally as the stereotypical gaming hero who accepts his fate, and is better than you would expect to take on his enemies – as if there was someone furious behind the scenes on the A and B buttons is rattling. The seven exes are also types where it feels somewhat uncomfortable not to have a controller in your hands. A fairly unique viewing experience, highlighted by the fact that “Vs.” appears in brightly colored arcade letters with every battle, and opponents explode in an explosion of coins and bonus points once the dust settles. Opponents, for which Scott, in addition to spectacular fighting techniques, also regularly has to speak his mind. So ingenuity matters, as in so many adventure games. Excuse me, adventure movies.
The references that the story is full of are not limited to comic books and computer games alone. Affinity with one or both is not a requirement, although the spectacle is particularly appealing when it is. Music, films and television series are also extensively cited (mainly from a similar genre – two of the exes are played by Brandon “Superman” Routh and Chris “Human Torch” / “Captain America” Evans for a reason). In addition, various cultural influences come along in the cleverly shot-together performance, which influence the lifestyle of –
especially – will appeal to teens and twenties. The cross-media ease with which Wright gets the different influences in one story is quite special and constantly gives you the idea that the film tells more than you can record. There is therefore something to be said for the director to have perhaps better spread the chronicles of Pilgrim over several films. Mainly because the chemistry and interaction between Scott and Ramona gets a bit snowed under, and other plot-related parts (such as Jason Schwartzman’s role as “final boss”) seem somewhat rushed. Although it does deliver a film that is well-filled on all levels and thus appeals on many fronts.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ‘is pop (corn) cultural entertainment for the Guitar Hero generation, and a celebration of recognition for anyone raised by Hudson, Capcom and Electronic Arts, still has a soft spot for the Sega and Nintendo universe, or just at home is in the bottomless pit of references that a childhood spent on comic books or game consoles has to offer. In his first American production, Edgar Wright succeeded in manipulating the experience-world-technical already quite clearly defined source material, without making any concessions in order to appeal to a wide audience with a view to the box office yields; better a “masterpiece” for a fairly specific target group, than a craftwork that has something for everyone and therefore becomes just as average as Scott’s garage band. It seems that Wright has mainly wanted to serve the fan base and pop culture peers. The result is a more than worthy conclusion to an unlikely triptych, and in the style of its predecessors entirely unique in its kind.