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Love it or hate it, “Shaun of the Dead” director and rabid fanboy favorite Edgar Wright’s dizzying action/comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is one of the most kinetic, visually-striking motion pictures to find its way onto American movie screens in quite some time. Sure, it might not be the most intelligent flick at the cineplex, and its humor is unabashedly nestled in the world of retro video games and geek culture, but Wright’s colorful approach to the material, combined with Michael Cera’s strangely affecting performance, help bring this four-eyed nonsense into the mainstream without sacrificing anything in the process. Walking out of the theater at two in the morning, my mind was completely dazzled, and I was already making tentative plans to see it again very soon.
For those who weren’t into the graphic novels, the film follows the light-hearted exploits of twenty-something bass player Scott Pilgrim (Cera), who, as the film opens, is dating an Asian school girl named Knives. Since the impossibly adorable lass is still in her late teens, Pilgrim’s cynical bandmates and his outwardly gay roommate (Keiran Culkin) are quick to bust his balls over their strangely innocent relationship. Scott has doubts about their romance as well, which may explain why he has some serious reservations about taking things to the next level. It also doesn’t help matters any that he’s become strangely obsessed with a mysterious girl who has popped up in his dreams, a neon-haired goddess who seductively skates her way through the endless desert of his mind.
Much to his lovelorn surprise, Scott soon encounters Ramona Flowers — otherwise known as the girl of his dreams — at a party, and after some very awkward courting, their relationship gradually begins to take off. Unfortunately for Scott, Ramona comes with some extremely dangerous baggage: in order for their relationship to continue, Pilgrim must defeat her seven deadly boyfriends, each of whom comes equipped with their own special powers. In true video game fashion, Scott embarks on a series of increasingly flamboyant showdowns with this collection of cartoonishly violent individuals, complete with hit combos, bonus points, and a shower of coins upon each defeat. Not surprisingly, these frantic, no-holds-barred showdowns put some understandable strain on their budding relationship, forcing Scott to reconsider his quest to win her heart.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” doesn’t sound very appealing, and, truth be told, I wasn’t exactly wowed by the film’s trailers when I first encountered them earlier this year. Much to my surprise, Edgar Wright has practically overload the picture with an insane amount of visually rich eye candy, ranging from animated depictions of Scott’s inner emotions, gauges that indicate how much urine he currently has swimming in his bladder, and, in one particularly memorable scene, a canned sitcom laugh track. It’s hard to process everything that’s taking place on-screen at any given moment, which will certainly call for several repeat viewings. Even Michael Cera’s shtick — which, admittedly, does get old after a while — manages to sustain itself for the film’s breezy 112 minute jaunt through witty dialogue, clever direction, and several eye-popping fight sequences.
It’s during these brutal, well-choreographed confrontations that the picture really shines. Wright and company have spared absolutely no expense in bringing these ridiculously enjoyable contests to life. Every ex-boyfriend — or, in one instance, ex-girlfriend — has a unique set of powers that Scott must somehow overcome. Rival bass player Todd (Brandon Routh), for example, is internally powered by his unwavering devotion to the vegan lifestyle, which grants him a bevy of powerful psychic abilities. Much like the video games that inspired the film’s art design, each boss has a particular weakness that Pilgrim must exploit in order to survive. This keeps the film from becoming repetitive, predictable, and needlessly boring, which was my biggest worry.
Simply put, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a blast from top to bottom. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a movie on the big screen, and that includes the rowdy midnight screening of “Orgazmo” I attended oh-so many years ago. Wright has masterfully crafted one of the most visually arresting mainstream movies in recent memory, one that rivals the zany, over-the-top action flicks streaming out of Japan over the past few years. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the source material or have an unmitigated hatred of Michael Cera, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is sure to blow your mind within the first fifteen minutes. The cast is perfect, the script is solid, and the action comes fast and furious. What more could you possibly want from a summer blockbuster?
Edgar Wright (director) / Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Cera … Scott Pilgrim
Alison Pill … Kim Pine
Mark Webber … Stephen Stills
Johnny Simmons … Young Neil
Ellen Wong … Knives Chau
Kieran Culkin … Wallace Wells
Anna Kendrick … Stacey Pilgrim
Aubrey Plaza … Julie Powers
Mary Elizabeth Winstead … Ramona Flowers