Movie review: 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

Funny first and everything else second

By Michael Phillips

Tribune critic
August 11, 2010


Movie review: 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'
Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Credit: Kerry Hayes/Universal)
Michael Cera Michael Cera Michael Cera and Chris Evans Anna Kendrick and Michael Cera
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Running time:
112 minutes
Michael Cera -
Scott Pilgrim
Mary Elizabeth Winstead -
Ramona Flowers
Kieran Culkin -
Wallace Wells
Chris Evans -
Lucas Lee
Anna Kendrick -
See full cast
Edgar Wright
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3 stars (out of four)

It's easy to make a movie in a style approximating that of a comic book or graphic novel. "Sin City" did it. "Road to Perdition" did it. "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass"  did it. As did "Ghost World." Except for that last one, the others fell short as movies because they mistook visual replication for authenticity. They were storyboards based on storyboards, not films.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is different, and not just because it's funny first and everything else second. Director and co-writer Edgar Wright understands the appeal of the original Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic novels, about a Toronto fellow in his early 20s, dating, sort of, a high school girl with the superb name of Knives Chau. Scott Pilgrim plays in a band called Sex Bob-Omb. His heart goes ka-THUMPA-thumpa when he spies a New York transplant named Ramona Flowers ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead). A tough babe in black leather and boots, she says he can date her if — major if — he vanquishes all seven of her "evil exes."

The battles are epic, wall-smashing, physics-bending blowouts. O'Malley's manga-inspired books combine utter banality with superhero hyperbole, and it's a lot for a director to take on. Wright, who is British, has taken it on and won. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" lives and breathes the style of the original books, with animated squiggles and hearts and stars filling out the frame in many individual shots. Some of this is cute; some of it is better, weirder than "cute."

Michael Cera plays Scott. The rap against Cera, best known for "Juno," is that he's "the same" in movie after movie. I've heard the same argument used against Jesse Eisenberg, and a hundred other actors. Sorry, folks, I don't see it. Cera's range may not be expansive, and he's certainly a narrowly defined physical type, but his verbal hesitations are exquisitely calibrated. "I was thinking we should break up, or whatever," he tells Knives (Ellen Wong), and the singsongy way he says it, he's speaking for every conflict-avoidant arrested-development male who ever sidled up to a breakup speech like the biggest wimp imaginable.

One major element holds back "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" from being wonderful. The second Winstead's droll, easygoing Ramona lays out the narrative requirements (the seven epic battles to the death, staged like slightly out-of-date video game clashes), the viewer thinks: Wow. Seven? Seven sounds like a lot. It is, in fact, two or three too many. Wright's film, working from an adaptation by Wright and Michael Bacall, spins its wheels in the final half-hour.

Yet "Scott Pilgrim" requires a certain too-muchness. Vanquished evil exes dissolve into a pile of coins upon being dealt the fatal blow. To enjoy the film you must enjoy the brash, satiric spirit of hero's quest. Cera and his fellow ensemble members, including Kieran Culkin as Scott's roommate, Anna Kendrick as his snippy younger sister and the majestically dour Alison Pill as the band's drummer, mitigate the apocalyptic craziness with their deadpan wiles. At its best, Wright's film is raucous, impudent entertainment.

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