Comic books and graphic novels have provided the inspiration for loads of movies but rarely does a film really capture the spirit of its pen and ink muse. “Sin City” used a mixture of live action and digital trickery to bring its film noir story to visceral life and the “Spider-Man” series wisely focused on the characters for their big screen outings but “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is the evolution of both these techniques. Director Edgar “Sean of the Dead” Wright strikes a balance between live action, manga, video game imagery and music videos to conjure up a wildly entertaining, if some what sensory assaulting pop culture confection that works as a film and stays true to the source material.
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” stars Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old Torontonian who is rebound dating a 17-year-old high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Knives loves Scott and his band, but Scott only has eyes for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a recently transplanted New Yorker whose habit of changing her hair color from shocking pink to blue to green every week leads Scott to believe she is unpredictable. He may be right, but her fickle behavior is the least of his problems. As soon as they start dating he discovers he has to pass a test—actually seven of them—if he wants to be with her. He must first defeat her Seven Evil Exes in wild video game meets “The Matrix” fights scenes.
The experience of watching “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is not unlike that sonic rush that accompanies walking into a videogame arcade. It’s noisy, flashy and somewhat disorienting. Director Wright flips from scene to scene with the speed of light, filling the screen with sight gags, surreal graphics flying on and off the screen and much visual mayhem.
It’s nonstop but unlike movies that are all style and no substance the look of the film is crucial to the spirit of the story. Some suspension of disbelief will be necessary when watching the movie—extras lives can be gained à la video game rules—but the underlying reason for all this flash is Scott’s journey toward self awareness. He’s a video game nerd and a comic book geek whose life is marked by the constant flow of information and stimulation that we’re all inundated with every day and the movie’s hyperactive style inventively portrays that world.
It’s a cool looking movie but that doesn’t mean that much if the characters aren’t engaging, and here again Wright steps up. Cera (the year’s most unlikely movie warrior) is treading familiar ground here—the sweet geek—but brings with him razor sharp comic timing and a likeable screen presence. His realization that you must fight for what you believe in and those you love may be presented in an outrageous fashion, but the underlying message is bang on.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is a unique piece of work. It’s a wild ride that nails the pop culture zeitgeist but also tells a universal human story.