Film—like any art—is all about scavenging. Everything is a collection of influences, so what you end up with is less about what you pull from and more how you reassemble it. Most of what can be found in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is tethered to other films. The film’s pop-art colors and its fluid, nonlinear movement—both from scene to scene and within individual scenes—is reminiscent of the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer (2008). The video game’s come-to-life aspects and the movie’s energized action would be right at home in the Crank films of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. The way the film tries to look and feel like an actual comic book isn’t too far removed from what Ang Lee toyed with when he made Hulk (2003). It even manages to mix something that’s akin to the Shaw Brothers with a look at modern relationships, yielding a result that falls somewhere between Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997) and Richard Lester’s The Knack…and How to Get It (1965), with a good bit of Brian De Palma’s The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) thrown in for good measure.
But what director Wright is doing here isn’t simply waxing referential and flexing his movie knowledge. No, he’s filtering pop culture through his own aesthetics, creating something completely and singularly his own. The story is taken from the Scott Pilgrim comics of one-time, short-term Asheville resident Bryan Lee O’Malley, which themselves pull inspiration from everything from rock music to manga. While Wright’s captured the spirit of the source, he’s also made a movie that makes the comics look downright quaint and utterly inert in comparison. In Wright’s hands, Scott Pilgrim is a constantly shifting, morphing mix of video games, anime and super-stylized, absurdist entertainment, all with a romantic comedy at its center.
The plot is your basic tale of boy meets girl, though in this case the boy—the titular Scott Pilgrim (Micheal Cera), the 23-year-old bass player for garage rock outfit Sex Bob-omb—sees his relationship with said girl—the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof)—complicated by the fact that her seven evil exes are out to kill young Scott. This entails Scott facing off against each ex in a video game-style duel to the death—with the loser exploding into a burst of coins. The battles are always over-the-top, since this is a movie which resides in a world where, for instance, vegans are granted psychic superpowers.
The action is not only clever but coherent, too—but in many ways, this is just window dressing. The action works to move the plot along, but there’s more than just uber-kinetic fight scenes going on here. The movie itself presents the best take on modern youth culture of any recent film. You’ll see the overused (to the point of completely eroding what little meaning it had to begin with) term “hipster” thrown about by some, but the movie’s too self-deprecating and self-aware to be mistaken as a sop towards any one group of people. The film in its entirety is refreshingly flippant and casual about the world it inhabits. While it’s certainly mentioned on multiple occasions that Scott’s roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin, Lymelife), is gay, it’s not an issue or a problem or a cause of disgust. It’s just who he is. On top of all that, the film itself is a very adept examination of dating and an honest account of the insecurity—by way of immaturity—that crops up in relationships.
Some might be turned off by Michael Cera starring role in the film after his string of one-note performances and awful movies like Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (2009), but don’t be mistaken. The character of Scott Pilgrim is at heart a much more lively, confident character than the mumbling boobs he usually plays. The film itself is the anti-Nick and Nora. Where that film was obviously demographically torqued to the point of stupidity, those shortcomings are replaced here with Wright’s verve and style and pure joy of filmmaking. Could the film have been better without Cera? Who knows? But who else is as tailor-made for the part besides Cera? Plus, it would be a pity to miss a movie that’s this much fun because him. Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references.