Film Review: Scott Pilgrim VS. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s fine “Scott Pilgrim” series.  It stars Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, along with a large cast of excellent actors from comic heroes Chris Evans and Brandon Routh to newcomers or little-known actors like Ellen Wong and Mae Whitman.  It is directed by Edgar Wright, of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame.  And it is among the best movies to come out this year.

A mash-up of romantic comedy and action film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World lacks the ramshackle, loosely plotted charms of O’Malley’s comics, but it makes up for it with a killer pace and some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen in a movie.  More so than something like Avatar, Scott Pilgrim seems to herald a brighter future for CGI-driven action.  Like Avatar, the action of the film, quite possibly the reality of the film, leans heavily on computer animation.  Unlike Avatar, Wright & Co. didn’t master the effects and then give up – they went on to craft a world, one filled with fascinating characters and touching moments in between bizarre, musical-style sequences of playful violence. In Avatar, you admired the effects and tried to forgive the shoddy plotting and lazy characterization.  In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, you accept the effects and live in the movie.

Wright and his casting team made some brilliant choices, and then made some more, and then kept on making them: even the bit parts of the film, characters like Jill, Envy, Comeau, etc… are impeccably cast, maintaing not only the look of the comics, but the sensibility of the story.  Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill, and Kieron Culkin stand out as, respectively, Julie Powers, Kim Pine, and Wallace Wells, and steal almost every scene they’re in, but there’s not a single bad casting decision in the movie.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is not a movie everyone will like, but it’s a movie everyone should see.  Like it’s closest relative, Kung-Fu Hustle, it combines shockingly deft comedy with some of the best action you will ever see, but while Kung-Fu Hustle is an obvious touchstone (as is Wright’s hyper-referential/excellent sitcom Spaced), Scott Pilgrim is a truly unique film.

Unlike many films and shows that toss out pop culture references left and right (say, Epic Movie or Family Guy), Scott Pilgrim is, well, good.  The references, far from random, serve to bring us deeper and deeper into Scott’s brain and tell us why he’s doing what he’s doing, an audio-visual shorthand that clues us into Scott’s head.

It isn’t flawless, not even close.  The last minute of the film feels tacked on, like studio testing suggested that what they were building to was too frightening and mature an ending to consider.  The film could have used an extra 10-20 minutes, to space the fights a little better and give Scott and Ramona’s burgeoning relationship a chance to breathe.  Or just to flesh out Ramona a little more, an important character given somewhat short shrift by the film.

But it’s not often that a film suffers from too much ambition these days, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World certainly has that.  Bursting with ideas and with a sense of style all its own, you won’t see anything like it for a long, long time.  See it in theaters.  Even if you don’t love it, and there’s every chance you won’t, you’ll be glad that you did.  It’s funny.  It’s exciting.  It’s smart.  And it has a shocking amount of heart for an CGI-heavy action film that involves demon hipster chicks and people exploding into handfuls of coins.

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