Review: Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Woody Allen as a superhero

By Jonathan Foreman, August 26, 2010


Michael Cera battles Jason Schwartzman in the game-inspired movie

Michael Cera battles Jason Schwartzman in the game-inspired movie

Edgar Wright's exuberant film is aimed almost exclusively at young people who have grown up playing video and computer games with pumped up sound effects and extreme but unrealistic violence.

But unlike similarly inspired movies, it aspires to the sweetness of the John Hughes romantic comedies for teenagers. And it is an extraordinary attempt to create a film language that evokes and mimics (and occasionally even makes fun of) not just comics but also the various electronic entertainments of today's texting, twittering youth.

Wright, who made the hit spoofs Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, splits the screen into two, three and four fragments, jumps from slow- to fast-motion, and illustrates action scenes with comic-book thought bubbles and spelled-out sounds.

It is all cleverly executed, and very knowing. And for the first hour it dazzles with its hectic inventiveness. Unfortunately, it becomes repetitive - especially the elaborate, ritualised fight scenes. And the underlying story - the film is based on a series of comics by Canadian Bryan Lee O'Malley - is hardly compelling. Indeed, the screenplay by Wright and Michael Bacall has little to offer except the 'whatever' attitude and deadpan one-liners that seem so witty to teens and twenty-something slackers. You just do not care all that much if the hero is going to get the girl.

That hero is Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno and Superbad), a self-doubting 22-year-old guitarist in a Toronto "alternative" rock band. His world is turned upside down by the arrival in town of a self-possessed American girl called Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Somehow he persuades her to become interested in him, but his joy is short-lived - Ramona has "seven evil exes", led by a music producer (Jason Schwartzman), and Scott will have to defeat them all in single combat if she is to be his girl. Every time he dispatches one of these enemies, using kung fu or sword-fighting skills you would not expect of such an apparent wimp (no-one's super powers are ever explained), the villain turns into a shower of coins and a score appears on the screen.

Despite some very funny scenes, there is little in Scott Pilgrim that appeals to the heart. Partly this is because the gag about the "seven evil exes" does not make sense - why would a young woman as self-confident as Ramona need the permission of her former lovers to date Scott? More importantly, what could possibly draw her to a loser like him? Yes, of course, Michael Cera's plain Scott Pilgrim belongs to the Woody Allen species of film fantasy figures - the clever but underachieving nerd who is improbably attractive to sexy women. But the suspension of disbelief surely requires some kind of quality - passion, say, or brilliance, or wit to compensate for neediness, narrow shoulders, and lack of success in the real world.

Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011