What to make of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the latest from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright? On the one hand, Pilgrim is an audio/visual feast drawing vast inspiration from videogames and comic books, with a healthy dose of Japanese Manga thrown on top. But one man's audio/visual feast is another man's loud, obnoxious hate-fest. Which camp will you be in? Depends: How old are you and how many riffs on gaming culture can you endure? I was good for about 60 minutes. Scott Pilgrim runs 108.
Michael Cera stars as Michael Cera, erm, Scott Pilgrim, your average early-20-something who enjoys dating 17-year-old high school students when he's not busy rocking out in his band, The Sex Bob-ombs. (Get the reference? If not, you're already in trouble.) One day Scott spots Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) -- she of the too-cool-to-care glare and ever-changing hair color -- and falls instantly in love. But with each new relationship comes baggage, and the quest to win Ramona's heart begins with the defeat of her seven evil exes. "You have seven ex-boyfriends?" asks Scott. "Something like that," Ramona answers.
The first 20 minutes or so of the film play as a highly stylized hipster romance, as director Wright weaves in heaping handfuls of obscure references, pop-up graphics, classic audio samples (loved all the Zelda riffs) and a general motif of youth cool. But then, at a battle of the bands competition, Scott Pilgrim is confronted by the first of the evil exes, and the movie turns into a live-action spoof of videogame brawlers like Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct. The effect can be jarring.
The rest of the film is consumed with Pilgrim besting the other six exes, each with their own style and weakness. (Personal favorites: Chris Evans as a douche-y movie star, Brandon Routh as a Mr. Perfect who derives all of his power from an incredibly pompous vegan lifestyle, and Jason Schwartzman as the final ex, a record producer whose every utterance will only make you hate him more.) Anyone who has played videogames will be familiar with the "boss battle" conceit of Scott Pilgrim, and the film pulls off the look and mechanics of these encounters perfectly. Don't know what a "boss battle" is? Prepare to be bored out of your mind by loud repetition.
Michael Cera has made a career out of playing the effete, quietly clever wallflower, and here he somehow wedges the persona into an ass-kicking, kung-fu-hustling hero. The actor deserves credit for not looking like an ass (especially during the fight scenes), but I still wouldn't exactly call this artistic growth. The supporting performances are mostly all appealing, including those I've already mentioned plus Kieran Culkin as Pilgrim's gay roommate and Ellen Wong as Pilgrim's high school-aged girlfriend. One complaint: Up In The Air's wonderful Anna Kendrick is miscast and underused as Pilgrim's sister, and that's too bad.
Ultimately, I think I appreciated what Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was trying for more than what it actually accomplished. I enjoyed it far more than any of the videogame-to-movie adaptations I've seen (not exactly high praise), but it's still ultimately a failure, if only because what works in a videogame doesn't translate all that well to the big screen. Gamer kids and geeks are going to love it, though. If you're one of those, get your quarters ready now.