Now that I’m back in civilization (and particularly given that my apartment is having power issues, and thus Berk and I are living like the Amish this week), time to catch up on the recent movies I’ve missed. First up, Edgar Wright’s fun and propulsive adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the (vaguely problematic) indie comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Sadly, it seems Pilgrim has already joined a film it shares a lot in common with in terms of visual inventiveness, the Wachowskis’ unjustly maligned Speed Racer, as something of a box office “bob-omb”. (That pun, by the way, was borrowed from one of the many Expendables fans on AICN strangely all-too-happy to dance on Pilgrim‘s box office grave.) And that’s really too bad. Because, even if I have some issues with the blatant fanboy (emphasis on “boy”) wish-fulfillment at its core, which I’ll get to in a bit, Scott Pilgrim deserves a wider airing.
For one, with its Wham-Pow! effusiveness and viscerally engaging superhero fights, it’s easily one of the most imaginative comic book renderings onscreen this side of Sin City. And comics are only half the story. From its 8-bit Universal opening (a la those great NES Pink Floyd mash-ups I linked to a few months ago), the movie also has one foot firmly entrenched in the world of old-school console gaming. If the dreamworlds of Inception felt like stages in a video game, this movie takes the conceit to the next level: Scott Pilgrim’s entire life unfolds in a Walter-Mitty-meets-Street Fighter, coin-operated Toronto (Trononto?) where g4m3r rules are a fact of life.
This allows for defeated villains turning into collectible coins, 1-ups around for psychic rejuvenation when needed, and — always a happy indication that the movie is about to get super-fun again — the Capcom “VS.” popping up whenever Scott (Michael Cera) must face off against another of his dastardly foes. Those would be the seven members of the League of Evil Ex’es, the sinister cadre of former significant others to the lovely Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that have gathered together to block our hero from ever dating his dream girl.
And trust me — These Ex-Men (and one Ex-Woman) are no slouches. Among their number are not only Captain America (Chris Evans), here an action hero heartthrob and skater punk with a Jamie Madrox-style army of stunt doubles at his disposal, but the one and only Superman (Brandon Routh), now blonde, psychic, and, most dastardly of all, Vegan. (In the Pilgrimverse, Vegans operate like the Green Lantern Corps. Just ask Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr.) And they’re just the mini-bosses Scott will have to contend with before defeating Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, a bit anti-climatic, quite frankly — They should’ve sprung for Aldous Snow), the music biz impresario who still has an unholy thrall over Ramona, thanks to a chip implanted in the back of her neck.
Wait…a what? A chip, you say? That makes her a rather passive character, doesn’t it? Yeah, well, that’s the major problem with Pilgrim, which I attribute more to the source material than anything else. This is basically fanboy pr0n, and, in terms of the ostensible romance here, Pilgrim is as one-sided and overtly gendered a piece of rom-com wish-fulfillment as I imagine Eat, Pray, Love was in the theater next door. I mean, I get it: Saving the girl of your dreams from despicably evil forces has been a fanboy trope from Princess Leia to Princess Zelda (although, to her credit, Leia takes over the show as soon as she’s sprung from Detention Block AA-23.) And as one who’s eternally fond of Brazil, I’m not one to complain about a man going out on a limb for his dream-girl.
Still, something about Scott Pilgrim rankles. Sure, Michael Cera specializes in dweebs, but as George Michael in Arrested Development and in movies like Superbad, Juno, and Youth in Revolt, he still had a certain wry, self-effacing charm about him. But, as Scott Pilgrim, he’s just a lazy, whiny, self-entitled jerk, and seems unpossessed of any trait that would make him either desirable to the opposite sex or worth rooting for as a hero. (Well, I guess he does play the bass.) Meanwhile, Ramona is a very pretty cipher — She doesn’t bring much to the table either except Kate Winslet’s hair from Eternal Sunshine and the plot-driving baggage of seven evil ex’es. She’s more of a Macguffin than a fully-realized character.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot of joy to be had in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, mostly due to Edgar Wright, after Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, really letting his freak flag fly. There’s almost always something fun and geeky going on in the margins of the screen or on the soundtrack, and the Brandon Routh fight and a later Battle of the Bands (between Scott’s outfit, Sex Bob-omb, and a pair of Japanese twins by way of Daft Punk) are both absolute showstoppers. (Maybe too much so, in fact — The final twenty minutes are muddled, and feel like a letdown after these earlier highs.)
Yet, despite the flaws of its titular hero, Scott Pilgrim is the most purely enjoyable roller coaster ride to come down the cinematic pike since Kick-Ass. And, sure, Scott Pilgrim probably doesn’t deserve the girl in the end (or maybe he does, given that she’s drawn as such a blank), but Scott Pilgrim vs the World definitely deserves your ten bucks regardless.