Not that long ago Hollywood realized that the young film-goers they desperately wanted to draw to their movies had grown up playing video games. The aesthetic and pace of video games began to influence film, much to the annoyance of older moviegoers who simply were not used to the pace. Now, some years later, we’ve reached the point where the movie makers themselves have grown up playing video games. And, with that, we now see movies that are designed to actually look like video games themselves.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World launched with midnight screenings last night. I attended a showing in downtown Toronto. The film itself is unabashedly set in Toronto so the affect was something like going to the Superbowl with the home team playing. Based on a seven part series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley this film is a masterpiece of style but isn’t lacking in content as a result.
Michael Cera plays the title character. He’s a 22-year old slacker with no job who shares an apartment, and bed, with a gay roommate. He’s between jobs and trying to make it work as a bass player in a struggling band. Still reeling from a bad break-up his current girlfriend is a seventeen-year-old high school student, a point that draws him no end of ridicule from friends, his sister and his own bandmates. But all that changes when he meets Ramona Flowers, who may literally be the girl of his dreams. Pilgrim begins dating Ramona, without first breaking up with his girlfriend, only to learn that Ramona’s love life is governed by the League of Evil Exes, Ramona’s seven former romantic partners who engage any potential suitor in a series of duels to the death to prevent anyone from having her.
Michael Cera is not exactly what you would expect from an action hero but there’s no realism to be expected in this movie. The fights, and there are plenty, are over-the-top style pieces where literally anything can happen. The League includes mystics, a movie star, a vegan musician (who happens to also be dating the ex that tore Pilgrim’s heart out), a kickboxing lesbian and a smarmy record executive. Cera fights with not just his body but also his brain. But, as each ex is dispatched and turns into a pile of coins, Ramona and Scott’s growing relationship is placed under ever growing stress. Can Scott overcome his own insecurities as well as the evil exes and have a hope of a happy ending? If you’ve read the comics you already know. If not, you’re in for a nice surprise.
And that describes the whole film, a nice surprise. With sound effects appearing as words like in the 60s Batman TV-series, and other video game touches like the “pee bar” this could have easily dissolved into the stinkiest cheese in the world. But director Edgar Wright maintains a laser precise vision for the entire 1h 53m of the film’s runtime. Completely internally consistent, but backed by an actually touching romance and a generous dose of laughs this is a film that is going to satisfy its target audience. For those who haven’t played a video game since Pong it will probably all seem silly and far too bust to appreciate.
Casting was perfect. Scott Pilgrim is firmly in Michael Cera’s comfort zone and he steps into the role like a skin-tight pair of jeans. Mary Elizabeth Winestead as Ramona manages to make her seem like a real character while maintaining an air of unobtainable mystery. Jason Swartztman, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh all take turns as exes and deliver solid performances in what could have been one-note characters.
So is this movie for you? The opening seconds of the film are the Universal logo rendered as an 8-bit video game image complete with low quality music. If you find this idea hilarious then you need to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. If that image confuses you, or you consider it silly, then the multiplex is playing The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love this week too. You might want to check them out instead. For myself, this was just as epic as advertised.