“SMACK,” “PAF” and “TCHAC” are all appropriate sound effects to describe the way “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” hits viewers with its ludicrous levels of inventiveness. Cinematically, something like this has never been done before — a romantic comedy with highly stylized violence featuring an aesthetic that blends the visuals of comic book panels and action video games. Yet, though this mishmash of genres and artistic styles would seem incompatible or even overwhelming, “Scott Pilgrim” works marvelously.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
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“Scott Pilgrim” is tailor-made for our ADD-addled generation, simultaneously bombarding the audience with one-liners, sight gags, superbly choreographed clashes, a bitchin’ soundtrack and Michael Cera’s awkwardness. Cera (“Superbad”) stars as the title character who, in order to date the girl of his dreams, must defeat her seven evil exes. And “defeat” here means that he must face them in “Street Fighter”-esque throwdowns and pummel them until they burst into a shower of coins.
If it isn’t obvious enough from the plot description, “Scott Pilgrim” employs a sheer amount of absurdity that must be wholeheartedly accepted in order to enjoy the film. Can you handle a man literally flying into a rock concert and challenging Michael Cera to a duel to the death? If yes, you’ll appreciate “Scott Pilgrim.” If not, feel free to leave the theater; the movie won’t get any less bonkers.
The aesthetic style of “Scott Pilgrim” deserves a dissertation unto itself — in brief, it’s a random assortment of video-game elements pasted onto the screen at clever moments. The style may be jarring at first, especially for those unexposed to video games, but viewers will be surprised at how quickly the kooky visuals become organically intertwined with the narrative.
With all this ’90s gaming nostalgia flowing, “Scott Pilgrim” is pitch-perfect for the hordes of Gen-Y geeks who spent their defining years playing “The Legend of Zelda,” listening to Beck and Blink-182 and drinking Surge (often at the same time). To optimally enjoy “Scott Pilgrim,” one has to be part of this subculture — the film is packed with subtle references to 8-bit gaming that hardcore devotees will adore and everyone else will involuntarily ignore.
But the beauty of “Scott Pilgrim” is that viewers can still love the film with all of this geekier humor going over their heads. For every crack about “Final Fantasy II,” there are dozens of witticisms that everyone will chuckle at. It’s all part of the genius of director Edgar Wright, who already nailed this ability to balance geeky humor and nostalgia with mass appeal in both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” He’s able to satiate action junkies with ridiculous brawls and then smoothly transition to low-key scenes of a more romantic and comedic nature.
But even with these slower scenes, the film seems quite rushed. It’s pretty clear why: “Scott Pilgrim” is adapted from a series of graphic novels that stretched over six books, and the film crams all six chapters into just under two hours. Even with this knowledge about the practicalities of Hollywood, Wright makes some poor decisions about what to use and discard from the source material. In particular, a lot of the film’s peripheral characters should have been cut for some much-needed character development.
Will “Scott Pilgrim” revolutionize action cinema, à la “The Matrix?” Sadly, no, since the target audience for the film is so limited. But Edgar Wright has made a damn hilarious, visually remarkable film that can already be deemed a cult classic — one that geeks will worship and ordinary fans can have a blast with, too.